Editor's Corner

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sunburn on the soul

It's been winter now for, oh, I don't know, 50 or 60 months so far. How are you holding up?

I know, it's so... so... December to complain about winter in January.

Consider it more of a confession.

You see, I've lost my mind. Doctors call it Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). My wife calls it, "He's nuts." They say that the short days and lack of sunlight play havoc with our prehistoric genetic cerebral wiring. To be more direct, winter sucks.

How are you holding up?

I knew I had this long before the science types came up with a fancy-schmancy name for it. Winter Crazy is in full bloom again. We need a benefit. The Somewhere Anywhere Warm Fund.

I wonder if all those people who have uttered "aren't those snowflakes so pretty," realized that in my imagination, I am strangling them at that very moment. I am not proud of this.

It is always about this time of year when my brain goes haywire. In my misspent youth, this meant occasionally waking up in the back of a jeep in Miami with no clear idea of how I'd gotten there.

How are you holding up?

These days I am required to be more responsible. Now, at this point in the year, when my skin is starting to disintegrate like the scales of a diseased gila monster, when I'm not sure I can tell morning from night, and I find myself looking up real estate trends for tin shacks in Death Valley, I can't just shuck my gig quite so easily.

That brings me to this moment, deep in my 472nd straight night at work, in six layers of clothes, inexplicably searching the entire world wide web for the lyrics to a summer song that won't stop running through my frost-addled brain.

"Beach baby, beach baby, give me your hand. Give me something that I can remember. Just like before we can walk by the shore in the moonlight..."

I wonder if the guy in that song ever got that girl back. What's her deal? Did she have SAD? Last I knew, he guessed she didn't remember anything..."

Did you know that song was written by Shakespeare? (I swear! Okay, it was Gil Shakespeare, but that still counts...)

How are you holding up? Am I the only one losing my mind, or are some of the rest of you just hiding it better?

I wonder - what song does it for you? What tune - even in the middle of winter - can put you back in that one summer on the beach - and you know the one I'm talking about, spanky...

"Under the Boardwalk" maybe? The Ramones' "Rockaway Beach?" How about Springsteen's "4th of July, Asbury Park?" "Summer Lovin'" from Grease? Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up the Sun?" "Good Vibrations" or "Margaritaville?"

I need 'em all. Bad. I need a surfboard. I need flip-flops. I need a farmer tan. I need a new career as a Caribbean pirate. I need global warming to get a move-on already. I need the faint smell of coconut. I need to see the sun. I need sunset on the water and sand between my toes. I need to not type with frozen fingers and scrape a crusty windshield for just one lousy night.

Ahem. So. How are you holding up?

Well, we're not alone at least, as it turns out.

Not only do 20 percent of Americans report they feel more depressed during the winter months as a result of seasonal affective disorder, it is raising heck with the rodent world.

In a new study at Ohio State University, where they apparently have a great deal of time on their hands, scientists have proven that hamsters experience sluggishness when their exposure to light is reduced.

"Hamsters aren't perfect models, but the mechanisms may be similar - as in what's going on in the brain that causes seasons to change emotional behavior," explained Leah Pyter, a graduate student in neuroscience who probably really, really needs a Margarita and a life.

So the eggheads lock Siberian hamsters in enclosures that are kept dark 16 hours a day, just like our dreary lot in mid-winter.

How do you know when a hamster is depressed? Easy, cheesy, Pyter explained. Depressed hamsters hover anxiously near the walls of their containers, rather than prance around the center. (Hey I do that!) They decline to slurp up tempting offers of sugar water. (Me too!) And when the scientists place the animal's face down in water, happy ones try to swim to safety while the sad ones just give it up and float limply. (Okay, I'm staying away from the bathtub until spring.)

"The sooner they give up in the water, the more depressed they are," states Pyter, who you may refer to as Captain Obvious.

"Our results do suggest a relationship between season and symptoms of depression and anxiety," the university reports. Further, they find that critters born in winter are more prone to depression throughout life than summer hammys. Delightful.

This all proves a couple of things, in my bleary estimation. One, we should thank the merciful higher power for not making us Siberian hamsters. Two, people at Ohio State are really some sadistic creeps.

So how are you doing? At least nobody's holding your face down in the water, and that's nice.

The experts say that if you have SAD you should wake up early, exercise, eat well and maybe wear a stupid box on your head with a light bulb until you feel better or your cerebellum slowly cooks like a soggy cupcake in an Easy-Bake oven. Gosh, thanks.

They fail to mention this, but I expect that expatriating immediately to live in a tiki bar on the beach in Martinique forever may also do the trick.

So, have I asked how you're doing?

Personally, I'm off for Columbus, Ohio. No, it's not warm there, but I do feel the need to sneak into a lab, release my fellow sun-craving creatures, and play my boys "Beach Baby" over and over until they are happy hamsters again.

Does anybody know how to make little tiny drinks with umbrellas, or where you go about ordering grass skirts in size XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXS?

How are you doing?

Happy winter.

And good luck with sanity thing.