Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Les Jours du Chien

I was wondering about this the other day: do the so-called "dog days" of summer have a date? A beginning and an end?

And the answer turns out to be, sort of. The "dog days" are supposed to be the time when the evening sky is dominated by Sirius, the dog star, which is what made me think that, like the turning of the Zodiac, it might be something that happens every year. And sure enough, it turns out to be right about now, this part of August when it seems like nothing at all is going to happen and the heat is enough to melt you if you step outside.

What made me actually want to post about this, though, is that a couple of days ago, I started reading my old Berlin blog from beginning to end, pen in hand, taking notes for a possible project. Yesterday, I got to exactly five years ago, the dog days of '04, arguably one of the lowest points in all my years of existence. I hadn't written an article in a year. I had no money and was about to lose my electricity. I was ten months behind in my rent. Just re-reading this, the old mood came over me. I was a wreck for the rest of the day. Things aren't quite that bad at the moment, but I am behind in my rent, not only for this apartment but for a storage locker back in Texas which only has a few more days before its contents wind up in a dumpster, and I don't have any current paying projects. As was the case back then, I'm owed money, and I have no idea where it is, except that I can prove it's not in any of my bank accounts.

One way that this situation is worse is that my landlord lives locally, and pays me visits, like he did just a few minutes ago. In Berlin, my landlord lived a couple of hundred miles away. One way that this situation is better is, well, I'm not in Berlin. In Berlin, the weather was proving oppressive, except then it was cold and rainy (in August? In August.) and here it's hot, muggy, and the evening breeze of a couple of weeks ago has stopped. Somehow, hot and muggy, while not pleasant, is more natural than having to go outside in mid-August wearing a Levi jacket to stay dry and warm.

But the cyclical nature of the situation was what got me depressed. As someone commented the other day, "Aren't you a little old to still be living like this?" I've been too old to live like this for, oh, to be generous, twenty years.

And then the New York Times had to go and print an article about a study which suggests that this kind of thing is physiological, too; that the stress situations like this impose on the brain cause it to imprint patterns that cause you to repeat the things that caused the situations to come into being. Which, in my case, is true: I keep writing articles for newspapers and magazines and doing other writing for hire and then I have no control over when -- or, in some cases, if -- I'll be paid. And, of course, when I contacted two of the folks who owe me, it turned out they were both on vacation. For how long, I have no idea.

Of course, the Times article also says that the rats in the study recovered after being put in unstressed environments. Not only did their behavior change, but their brains rewired. Thus, four weeks of stress was cured by four weeks of vacation.

Which is what I need right now. I do love this place (at least so far), but I haven't been out of Montpellier at all since I returned on April 1. If all goes well, I'm due to go to Barcelona in mid-September to pick up some friends who are flying in there from the States and bring them back here, and as I understand it, some driving trips out of town are on the agenda. But I also need a long-term vacation-ish option, a place of psychic refuge, somewhere, physical or psychological, where the stress of the rent, the bills, and the isolation is neutralized.

And until then, well, woof.


  1. Do you have to leave town to change your routine?

  2. You're right it's ridiculously hot at the moment, and getting out of town is a good idea. Even my 48 hour dash to Strasbourg a couple of weeks ago did some good.

    Lexicographical sidebar - the French word for heatwave is "la canicule", which of course comes from the latin "canicula" for a small dog, which was an alternative name for Sirius. But you probably knew that already.

  3. No, in fact, I did *not* know that. I mean, yeah, I've seen the word, but no, I didn't make the connection. Makes sense, though.

    And B, it's not so much about changing the routine as it is being challenged, visually and otherwise, by a change of scene. In fact, the routine -- when I wake up, when I eat, etc -- is likely to be the same. But where I do it just brightens up the neurons. Hell, even Strasbourg sounds good!

  4. Hmmm, I just think that if you say "No change is possible until I go to Spain" then you're building yourself a box.
    There may be other ways to shock yourself. If you were still in Berlin I'd suggest you went to an FKK beach or something. It's a change of scene.

  5. I'm not saying that no change is possible until I go to Spain, not at all. I'm saying I'd like a change of scenery. Which a Berlin FKK beach certainly would be, but not in a good way. I was thinking of taking the bus to the nearby beach, and may yet. Thing is, it's hot enough that I don't much want to leave the house just now. Weatherman says that'll change slightly, though.

  6. Hang in there Ed...I can definitely relate.

  7. Hmm, but I still think you're setting a lot of conditions on yourself. And maybe you have enough of those already.

  8. We now have a Code Yellow canicule, according to Météo France! We're supposed to drink lots of water, not go outside during the worst of the heat, keep our skin moist, and spend a couple of hours a day in air-conditioned spaces, which sounds to me like a sneaky way to get people into malls and restaurants. It's Code Orange further inland, too.

    On the other hand, the folks I know in Texas, where there have been over 50 days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 C), might still envy us.

  9. Keep our skin moist? They sure have some gallows humour at Meteo France. By this heat (33C in Berlin, too, in case you wondered) the problem is more how to get rid of the moisture, which is more like small rivulets, actually!

  10. It's funny. When my financial/bank nightmare happened this week I had the same "I'm too old for this shit" reaction as well.

    I think this is all part of the process of being a freelance writer.


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