Expectation vs. reality.
I grew up in Rhode Island, in a small town about an hour and twenty minutes from campus. This past semester, I saw hundreds of poor freshmen from more hospitable climates struggling to adjust to the weather, culture, landscape and general ~ethos~ of this very strange, very cold part of the country. So as a veteran New Englander (and I do say veteran because sometimes living here feels like a war), I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on the region — its history, culture, and some relevant life hacks — so that we can all feel a little more at home here. Hopefully this is the first of several such posts. Its focus, aptly for the season, is the terrible weather.
People have been complaining about New England’s weather for as long as New England’s been New England. Take this folk song, probably the first European one written in North America, which appeared in Massachusetts around 1630:
Dark and bitterly satirical, this old ballad is perhaps the best representation of the New England temperament that I’ve come across. My favorite stanza:
But when the spring opens, we then take the hoe
And make the ground ready to plant and to sow;
Our corn being planted and seed being sown,
The worms destroy much before it is grown. [ In other words: we worked very hard, but there’s no end to our misery. :( ]
In a strange way, The Sopranos, thought it takes place in New Jersey, possesses a similar sensibility: lots of griping, very pessimistic, yet laughing at the absurdity of life all the time, because that’s really all you can do. This is probably a common mentality across the Northeastern United States and other less sunny places. The difference is that, in New York there are at least things you can do to take your mind off the dismal landscape — go to a karaoke bar, talk to other wes students — whereas in New England (at least rural New England), the tendency is toward isolation, especially over the long winter breaks. It’s a common experience for many wes students from less populous areas.
I appear to have wandered off track. Where was I? I forget. Let me start over. Or rather, let me carry on in a discursive manner. We’ll get to the point eventually.
In my opinion, half the reason there are so many liberal arts colleges here is that the weather is super conducive to critical inquiry. Really, it doesn’t matter how much Marx you read. Once the temperature drops below freezing for the thirtieth night in a row and the sky turns a sooty grey and stays like that for a month, you’ll be critiquing the entire foundation of just about everything, complaining about just about everything, before you know it, no problem at all.
If this was a movie you’d leave the theater depressed — if it had this color palette.
At any rate, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ve never gotten used to the weather. The cold’s not so bad. If anything, it clears your mind. What really kills you is the fact that the sky’s always grey and there’s very little sunlight most of the time. This leads to a condition known as seasonal depression, which I don’t suffer from but which most people, after spending a little time here, at least get a tinge of. It’s really difficult to stay happy when you’re only getting a few hours of sunlight per day, and when most of those hours are overcast or downright dingy.
So, what to do?
- Well, the first thing is to remember that if you’re feeling sad, the weather might be one reason for it. Just knowing that, while it obviously doesn’t solve the problem, at least allows you to orientate yourself. It helps to know the variables at play in your life, even if you have little control of them.
- It also helps to try to talk to people, have friends, have a social life. Maximize the opportunities for momentary reprieves. And don’t be afraid to complain from time to time. Just don’t let it turn into a spiral of constant despair.
- Dress warmly (but you already knew that)