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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

Stumbling Out of the Shadows

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February is my light at the end of a dark tunnel, and I mean that
literally. I can handle wind, ice, rain, sleet and just about everything
else nature dishes out north of the 45th parallel between August and July.
Since my complexion is not genetically coded for tanning, gray skies never
cause anxiety. Moisture is my friend. A few years ago in a paint store, I
used a color chart to find the exact pallor of various body parts. My arms
matched a hue called almond blossom, an off-white variation with a whisper
of yellow. My legs are more bluish, and they closely resembled a
customized blend called sea breeze.

There is, however, one aspect of fall and winter that hits me hard
every year. When daylight savings time expires in late fall, the sun ends
its celestial journey by dropping out of sight like a lead balloon. At
5:30 PM I feel as if the clock has skipped ahead to midnight. This sudden
plunge into darkness weighs heavily on my psyche. Sometimes I get moody and
wander around the house talking to the furniture.

This is a not a medical problem but a case of life imitating art. Movie
fans may realize the connection by now. As I listlessly watch the light
fading through my living room windows on rainy afternoons in November and
December, I become much like the brooding characters who wander through the
films of Ingmar Bergman. I can even make my inner voice speak to me in mock
Swedish, with subtitles.

"Yah, da sun be-ah settin beahind da west hillden," translates to,
"Once again his radiant majesty has departed from the house of sky." And
then I think, "Mei spirit es ben flungin' into das doldrums," which means,
"I can feel the life force draining out of every internal organ." My
inspiration for these mental monologues is a terrific 1970s parody of
Bergman films entitled The Dove, which should be required viewing for all
college students in America.

Turning Swedish isn¹t the only problem during this period. My house has
a special quirk, too. It eats light bulbs like candy. Replacing burned-out
bulbs is practically my full time job during winter. I suspect this
phenomenon is caused by some electromagnetic force that science has not yet
discovered.

On particularly bleak, Bergman-like days, I will often flip a light
switch and the bulb will emit a bright flash of destruction, and expire.
It feels like the dark, negative energy in my body is being pumped into the
circuit at the moment of illumination. I am my own bell jar.

Just as schools sometimes announce snow days and all classroom
activities are suspended, I occasionally declare Bergman moments and place
all my hopes for a meaningful life in temporary escrow. There is a scene
in The Seventh Seal where the main character plays chess against Death,
who appears as a pale specter clad a hooded robe. In The Dove, the scene
was changed into a badminton contest. When I have a Bergman moment, Death
joins me on the couch to imbibe adult beverages and watch endless re-runs of
Law & Order.

But the sun has been traversing its path at a more leisurely pace since
we hit the winter solstice. Gloom is in retreat. By the time April arrives
the natural conditions will no longer be conducive to sulking in dark
corners like Max von Sydow. It'll be nice to put the role on hiatus. I
need a good long summer to prepare for the next encore.

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