"Melancholy is the happiness of being sad." — Victor Hugo
Up here, we call them the dark days or the dying days. The grass, flowers, leaves, much color and light withdrawn, the sunlight is often clouded in haze and mist, the farmers have always struggled in these days, we all need color and light.
In this time, when there is so much conflict and tension and anger, the dark days seem even darker. November is a hard month up here, we are making the transition from months of color and sunshine and light into a different time, a time when the animal and natural world seem to withdraw and rest.
The holidays are upon us, this week is Thanksgiving, a troublesome time for me and for Maria. We are going away for the day, to love one another and express our gratitude for each other and for our lives and work and love.
This coincides with the dark time, the dying time, when we withdraw somewhat into our selves and wait until Spring. For me, the holidays are something to endure, not really to celebrate, we are not drawn to head out on Thanksgiving and look for the best deals at Best Buy. Many people are.
We have found a nice and quiet place to go and have a good dinner. That is exciting for us, it pushes back the melancholy, the happiness of being sad. I think I am also sad about the holidays because year by year, they have been hijacked by giant corporations looking only for money. Increasingly, they are days of greed and money, not of rest or reflection or family.
There is no talk of the poor or the vulnerable on our holidays much now, just of sales and mall opening times.
For me, this is the season of melancholy anyway, the approach of the dread holidays, a time to either drown in the grossest kind of commercialism, or to recall my sad and fractured family.
The holidays were the worst days of the year for my sister and me, a time of pain and anger and disappointment, when we were forced together for days with broken people, against our will.
Thanksgiving was the time for me to fully grasp – and sometimes drown in – the dysfunction and cruelty and lovelessness all around me. This was not a time of happiness, but of lies and delusion.
I thought of it as a celebration of hypocrisy, not family. Perhaps it is time for me to get over it.
Maria and I dread family gatherings, to both of us a mask and a hiding place for troubled people. I know that is not true for everyone, but it was true for me. They seem to have nothing to do with me, which is lonely at times.
My sister prefers to spend her holidays with her dogs, there is pure love there, both ways, and no abuse or pretense. I used to feel badly for her, but have come to see her wisdom and honesty.
I am prone to black moods when the light and flowers and colors go, even though it is a good time to work – few distractions, cozy wood stove fires, an inward, perhaps spiritual, time.
I often wondered, as a writer once suggested, if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, and if laughter were really tears. Or if tears were really laughter.
I fight back every year, and am gaining ground. I will visit the Mansion, work to support the refugees and immigrants, feel good by doing good,
I see this week as a Gratitude Week, the corporations and politicians haven't snuffed that idea out quite yet, or turned it to gold. I am immensely grateful for my life, and that will be what this holiday is about for me.
Edgar Allen Poe, the chronicler of melancholy, wrote that he did not work for the pursuit of pleasure, "it has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom." The dark days were something to survive for him.
But I am closer to Italo Calvino's idea of melancholy, he called it a "sadness that has taken on lightness."
As the color melts away, and the sun hides, and the blackness descends over the landscape, and the snow and cold are coming close, and trees lay still on the ground, and the animals grow their coats and stay in the barn out of the wind, my mood turns melancholic.
Melancholy are the sounds of November and the night.
There is an aloneness to this time of year, it is said by the farmers that this is a necessary time, for the land to rest, and the animals to turn inward and invisible, for the people who work the land to get inside and tend to things.
This was always a lonely time, in my sometimes troubled life, I would take a deep breath and wait for the holidays, a time of enforced joy and rampant greed, to be over. Too often a time of forced joy, but in reality, often a time of emptiness and nostalgia.
There is a sweetness to melancholy though, it is not the same as depression, and I recall both with some vividness. Melancholy is defined as a time of sadness, quite common over the "holidays," although there is often no specific cause.
The dark days are a time of sadness, but also thoughtfulness, a time to be pensive. Melancholy does not come to cheapen us or bring us down, but to transfigure us and help us appreciate Spring, and the color and light in our own lives.
When nature and the sun hides from us, their emergence is all the more stunning.
These days are a challenge to my conscientious and also my photography, which has shown me the world anew, and brought me to see the color and light of the world.
Emilie Autumn wrote "I am my heart's undertaker. Daily I go and retrieve its tattered remains, place them delicately into its little coffin, and bury it in the depths of my memory, only to have to do it all again tomorrow."
Perhaps Percy Bysshe Shelly captured it the most eloquently: "An artist is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds."
That is the melancholy time.