November 20, 2022

I have lived in Portland, Oregon, for twelve years—one thousand miles north of the place of my upbringing. And so, for that same amount of time, I have endured what I’ve come to call “The Great Darkness,” i.e. those months when we get a few hours of low-grade daylight and spend most of our time feeling like we’re wandering around in the middle of the night. I just learned that the latitude of Portland is 45 degrees, which puts it exactly halfway between the equator and the North Pole, which means, among other things, that The Great Darkness could be much, much worse. For a dozen years, I have lived with this apparently moderate darkness with nothing more than the idle comment or complaint, but this year—this year, I am taking it personally. I can’t stop fixating on it, The Great Darkness, forcing me to turn on a lamp just after lunch, forcing me to get up in the dark, to fetch the mail in the dark, to work in the dark and cook in the dark and do all manner of things in the dark. I am not a sunshine lover. One thing I hate about the place of my upbringing is the sheer intensity of the sun, bearing down without mercy nearly every single day of the year. I do not want perpetual sun, but I do want a more equal balance of dark and light. During the Portland summer, the sun assaults us at 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t retreat until 10:00 p.m., and this too feels like an insult. When I think about it, we spend so little time with an exact division of dark and light, of night and day. We spend most of our time ricocheting between extremes—or rather, being ricocheted against our will between extremes—and not to get all philosophical, but there is a metaphor in that, isn’t there? We want a more equal balance of dark and light, of pain and joy, of sadness and hope. I suppose this year I am taking The Great Darkness personally because I’ve spent much of my existence in the dark side of things—in the pain and in the sadness—and I am tired. I am tired of having to turn on the light, of having to look for the light. I am tired of being told to hold out hope for the light, that the only point of the darkness is the light it will eventually give way to. I am not sure about that—I’m so unsure about it that I’m writing an entire book about it, about the ways the darkness matters in and of itself, for its own sake, and not just for the light that it leads to. The Great Darkness may be unbearable. So be it. But if we spend at least half our lives in it, I think we owe it more than simply trying to escape it.

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