Preparing For The Emotional Downtime of Winter

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Gary L. Clark is an author. After a thirty year career he retired to write a novel. He then joined a counselor-in-training program at the local community mental health center and worked three years as a substance abuse counselor. He retired again and has written two more novels. He recently completed the annotation of a self-help book on faith-based self-help. Two published novels (available on Amazon.com) address social justice. Mr. Clark is the Editor of thefiresidepost.com. He lives in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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Preparing For The Emotional Downtime of Winter

I am a sunshine guy.  I much prefer hot weather to cold.  With St. Joseph, Missouri, as my hometown my weather experience is of all extremes.  Northwest Missouri is like that – the joke is this:  If you don’t like Missouri weather wait a day and it will change.  Being a sunshine guy does not mean that I am a cheery happy person at all times.  In my case it simply means that I am happier in summer than in winter.  September is here and the winter preparation begins.

It happens that I am my father – I have all of his liabilities and few of his assets.  His physique was great as a young man – but an aging man with some muscle mass makes for difficult weight control.     My father did not care for winter and was subject to winter time blues.  Most of his life he lived in homes with few south windows.  In his last home his garage faced south so one would often find him sitting in a lawn chair in the garage with the overhead door opened.  Enjoying the sunshine was one of his life luxuries.  (If he is like me he was probably daydreaming about winning the lottery or rescuing the bank teller from a dangerous robber – but who knows what old men ponder?  Riches and courage – the elixir of deranged masculinity.  After thinking about this a moment I realized that my father was already a war hero so he probably did not think of that cute bank teller in the context of courage.)

My case is not so different than most.  Cloudy dreary days are actually nice in small doses.  A soft chair and a good book quietly fill the time – a day or two of rain is refreshing.  The problem is those darn Missouri winters.  Cloudy days may drag on for weeks.  I have a fireplace in my man cave but it is located in the north side of my house.  A warm fire is somewhat comforting but it cannot replace the original source of energy stored in the wood.

Over the years I have learned to be proactive with winter approaching.  Physical exercise is very useful in combating the dark shadows of extended clouds.  Physical exercise out doors is even better.  The Fall is a time when I must prepare my legs for three mile walks.  Walking three miles in about 45 minutes is a great mood lifter.  My tact is to follow the walking with about 20 minutes of upper body weight lifting.  (Of course stretching both before and after the exercise is given).  And this brings us to the current dilemma.  I am out of shape.

This past summer I took on a project of repairing a 130 year old, 200 foot long, wrought iron fence at a not-for-profit group home in the historic Museum Hill Historic District in St. Joseph.  Wrought iron is heavy.  The fence sagged about five inches, then bowed out from ground erosion about five inched, and then leaned over at about an 80 degree angle.  With the fence repaired the landscaping, or lack of purposeful landscaping, became obnoxiously evident.  Starting in mid June the project is nearing completion.  About 150 wheelbarrows of wood chips now cover the banks and the bottom of the fence.  All of this has been great for keeping me physically active.  The problem is that I have not maintained any regular work out routine.   My legs are like mush, my torso indescribable (or at least I am not willing to go there).  The calluses on my hands will not help ward off the winter time malady.

I have a routine physical once a year and have blood work done twice a year to manage thyroid medication.  The physical work of outdoor landscaping has served to keep my measurable medical numbers in line.  Cholesterol, Triglycerides, Blood Pressure, Heart Rate – all good.  Weight – not so good.  Ability to maintain a winter exercise program – not so good.

This is not a new place for many of us.  We enjoyed the summer activities without purposeful exercise.  A great summer life is not necessarily preparation for the down time of winter.  The key word that jumps out at me is ‘purposeful’.  I used that word many times over the summer when explaining my landscaping plan.  The landscape should look like it is done on purpose as opposed to looking like a hodgepodge of errant weeds constantly at war.

2012 and 2013 were difficult emotional times for this old man.  Family trouble and the deepest of grief over huge losses created a heavy burden.  That burden exists yet today – fighting to drain ay hope out of life itself.  These are times when ‘purpose’ is an essential word defining any activity.  The act of physical labor while landscaping was both physically rewarding but also served to maintain a sense of mental purpose.  With that project coming to an end something has to replace it.  What shall it be?

Fortunately, reading has always been a great joy in my life.  I was blessed with a desire to read at a very young age – probably 5 to seven years old.  The past two years have taught me that even reading has always been purposeful.  I read to learn.  I read for entertainment.  I read as a function of community.  I read to savor poetic prose, style, and to grasp the imponderables of life through good literature.  When mentally exhausted from deep and lasting periods of grief the reading seems to lose purpose.  My recent discovery is that all of my reading has been in the context of community – in the context of sharing with others – in the context of being a part of the larger community of like minded readers.  Being separated from that community sucks the wind out of the desire to read.

So winter is coming. I am not in prime physical shape.  I am not in a prime reading state.  Fortunately I have a old friend in New Mexico who has agreed to help me edit two different manuscripts that have been gathering dust on my shelf.  She is not like me.  She is always purposeful.  She seems to know how to talk directly to me without stirring any animosity.  Perhaps I just respect her so much that anything she says is taken constructively.

So here is the plan.  Start walking before Fall turns to Winter.  Start lifting weights. Prepare to be prepared.  Look for indoor physical projects – like repairing some kitgchen cabinets.  Exercise and keep mentally active by working on old manuscripts.  Enjoy long lost friendship.  Minimize grief.  Be purposeful.

Be purposeful.  Be positive.  Do not cause more grief.  Stay active………

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