Editor’s Notebook: A chill in January

January 12, 2022 5:48 am
The Warner River in winter

The Warner River moves slowly – even more so when the temperatures fall to single digits. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The weather app reported a temperature of zero degrees early Tuesday morning, and I took it at its word. 

There’s probably somebody in town with a thermometer on the sunny side of their barn who could dispute the data – who could offer proof that zero was an exaggeration or an outright lie and that I’m a fool – but my kitchen would still feel like a walk-in freezer. 

Today I defer to the meteorologists because my fingers are too stiff to shoot the messenger.

I’m not a big fan of the outdoors in winter, and I’m even less of a fan of winter coming indoors. To make matters worse, COVID-19 has been skulking around our property for a week now due to a couple of unavoidable exposures. The four of us – vaccinated and boosted – are symptom-free and so far testing negative, but we’re all a bit unsettled and keeping to ourselves more than usual. Even our new kitten, Lobster, spends most of her time under the bed.

In the best of years, January is a difficult month. Throw in a pandemic and pot-stirring politicians, and the cold grows colder, the dark darker. We’re worn out, numb, empty. Life in winter demands that we create our own warmth, our own light, but sometimes there’s no escaping the chill.

I turn 50 later this month – news I deliver with a shrug. It’s rare that I think about the precise number of years I’ve been around, and I’ve largely put to rest my lifelong beef with time and how unfairly it moves. Middle age has been less about resistance than making various kinds of peace – with my reflection and flaws, the state of the world and the ways of people. 

There are a lot of things – about myself and others – that I wish were otherwise, but now I’m better acquainted with the limits of condemnation. In the silence of this cold room, amid self-imposed isolation, I can hear the shouting on Twitter, Facebook, and the television that is turned off. I can hear the shouting in my own head about who is to blame for the way things are.

But the only real sound in this drafty room is the hum of a rotating space heater.

On Saturday, in this same room, I decided to watch “Nightmare Alley,” a 1947 classic that I hadn’t seen in years. It was a bit of an odd choice for a dreary day in January – there’s nothing particularly uplifting about a black-and-white film noir – but there’s a remake in theaters right now so the original had been on my mind.

It’s a good film about a carnival con man destroyed by his own ambition and greed, but my memories of the first time I saw it made the viewing experience brighter than it should have been.

Right around the time my wife gave birth to our second daughter, I was obsessed with all things film noir. I love how directors like Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Jules Dassin played with shadows, glowing street lamps, wet city streets – the way they explored how a good person could so easily become the architect of their own undoing.

Most of all I love that I watched dozens of these films 16 years ago, late at night, in the cold of winter, with a newborn asleep in my arms. I can still feel her, the weight of the newest piece of our family on my chest, her rising and falling with my breath – both of us fully at peace despite the tension on the screen and in the world. 

Sixteen winters later, my arms are empty. Sixteen winters later, the warmth and light remain.

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.