More sun, fewer 'Bergman moments'
PORTLAND, ORE. — February is my light at the end of a dark tunnel, and I mean that literally. I can handle snow, wind, rain, hail, and just about everything else nature dishes out during winter. Gray skies do not upset me, because my complexion is never going to achieve a sexy tan.
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. This is the main reason I never wear Bermuda shorts.
But one aspect of seasonal change hits me hard each year. When daylight savings time expires in October, the sun ends its daily celestial journey with disturbing abruptness. By 5:30 p.m. on Halloween, I feel as if the clock has skipped ahead to midnight.
After the long, mellow evenings of summer, the sudden plunge into darkness tends to erode my normally optimistic worldview. Sometimes I get moody and wander around the house talking to the furniture.
I realized years ago it's a case of life imitating art. Certain movie fans will relate to my situation. As I listlessly watch the light fading through my living-room windows on drizzly afternoons in November and December, I become much like the brooding characters who wander through the films of the late 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 within me slowly losing momentum." 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.
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 in a hooded robe. In "The Dove," the scene is changed into a badminton match. When I have a Bergman moment, there is no such cosmic confrontation. I simply slump on the couch and watch reruns of "Law & Order."
Thankfully, the sun is now traversing its path at a more leisurely pace, and the evening twilight is starting to linger. By April, the amount of ambient illumination within my household will no longer be conducive to sulking in dark corners like Max von Sydow.
It's nice to put that role on hiatus. I just have to be careful not to go overboard in the opposite direction and do something that would embarrass my family and harm society. Which means I'm still not planning to buy a pair of Bermuda shorts.
• Jeffrey Shaffer is an author and essayist who writes about media, American culture, and personal history.