Saturday, July 30, 2005

Anyone for Toast?

Since the last little while has been mostly uneventful (if pleasantly
so), I thought I'd try and capture for you the mood and mental state of
most of us here on Station now that we approach four months in the dark,
some of us nearly 10 months on station, and all of us dreaming at least a
little about green fields, fresh food and rain.

The phrase to describe someone suffering from too long in the cold and
dark is, in honour of long tradition, TOAST. There are a number of
physical and mental signs of Toastiness in your fellow winterovers
(though it is a little harder to spot in yourself).

How can you tell when you are Toast? Well, as a lot of navel-gazing has
allowed me an admission of a *small* number of these characteristics in
myself now that July comes to a close, I'll try and give you an idea:

The Physical Signs:

1)The Stare: you may see a greasy-haired, well-bearded fellow sitting at
a table, eyes fixed at some immotable spot which seems at least 1000
yards from where he sits. This "1000-yard-stare" is a good sign of a
recent winterover, and is a side-effect of some of the mental deficits
occurring (see below).

2)Tiredness: Poor sleep often affects you from the day you get here,
resulting from the altitude and lack of a diurnal cycle, but as the
months get on, this doesn't improve, but gets continually more
disorienting. Time doesn't tend to mean very much, and the accumulated
lack of sleep and the extended time at altitude, as well as vitamin
deficiency (Particularly vitamin D) mean that you feel nearly constantly
tired, and getting out of bed is quite hard. Permanent black-ringed eyes
are common these days.

3)Glow In the Dark?: Most of us here seriously need some sun-time. You
start to see your bright blue veins (brighter because we are
de-oxygenated) staring at you through vampire-translucent skin. It is
kind of hard to pick down here cause we all look like it, but we stand
out like sore (or sun-burned) thumbs when back in the real world.

4)Accumulated, well... stink: It is fortunate that it is hard to smell
stuff down here. Cause the only thing we'd smell is ourselves. I don't
mean to be gross, but it doesn't matter how deft you are, two two-minute
showers a week just don't cut it in the good hygiene stakes. By nine
months in, this lack of clean just builds up. It builds up more in some
than in others, if ya know what I mean...(I mean, some people 'seem' to
have a tan, and at this point in the year, that just ain't possible...)

The Mental Signs:

1)Forgetfulness: Goldfish memory is amazingly prevalent here. Thought
processes which were nearly instantaneous even in the summer now feel
like you are swimming through molasses. It is possible to do excessively
stupid things here. I rang someone on the phone the other day and they
asked who was calling. I experienced a moment of blankness, then twenty
seconds of blind panic. Then I remembered my name :)

2)Irritability: I've used the softer version of this phrase. It is
incredible how easily you can get the most easy-going of people riled up
nowadays. This is exacerbated by the fact that most people find it very
very amusing to find everyone's big red button and then push it at every
opportunity. You can hide your weak spots easier early in the season but
now they are pretty easy to find. The smallest things can annoy people,
and it is harder to get perspective and chillout. Things get thrown
across the room, feet are stamped, the most common word on station has
four letters, and feathers are ruffled harder than ever. Some people are
even pulling their feathers out...

3)Austin Powers "lack of an internal monologue" Syndrome:
Americans, as a whole, are incredibly polite people. Even early in the season,
us Aussies and Kiwis were raising
eyebrows and nervous giggles for our rude phrases and the way we ripped
into each other verbally. Well, now everyone's "filters" are being turned
off, and the most genteel of speakers has made me choke on my coffee with
a well-turned and utterly cutting insult to a fellow diner. It can make
for extremely entertaining dining (especially if you have been dying to
say the same thing for the last eight months), and is usually followed up
by the falsely contrite question, "Oh, sorry, was that my "Out Loud"

4) Deja-vu of the ten-month variety: You get up, walk past the same five
people to the galley, where the same music is playing, you eat the same
thing, head outside where the view (black) has been the same for the last
four months, and then go to work. You talk about the same things at lunch
or dinner, and then spend ten minutes desperately thinking of something
new to do afterwards, to give up and go watch a movie in your room. It is
very hard to explain that out in the real world it is the tiny daily
differences (the weather, the traffic, the radio, conversations, food)
that colour your day and these are nearly totally lacking. The
similarities in the days are sometimes hilarious. There are no days of the week,
there is only Sunday, and not-Sunday.

The smallest new thing can hold your interest like glue:
hence Hide and Seek where a grown woman with a doctorate gets a thrill
cause she discovers she can fit in a washing-machine and close the

Another example: Twenty people sat and watched four other people
play a game of Monopoly the other day; there was even heckling.

How do you minimise your Toastiness? Well, being in the middle of it, I
can't say for certain. I do know I am doing better than some;
particularly return winterovers for whom there is no novelty left find
this part of winter a bit hard. I do find it interesting that the above
symptoms are quite incredibly similar to those experienced while in the
depths of writing a PhD thesis; so it ain't all that new. And I am
staying sane by doing the same things I did then; physical activity
helps, and doing different things (yoga, Maori lessons - and I am now
learning massage from a friend) and keeping it a little crazy - Hide and
Seek being an example of taking pleasure in little things.

Mainly though, it is recognising that you are a bit toasty and not to take yourself too
seriously, trying to laugh at how ridiculously grumpy someone just made
you and get over it. Trying not to count the days till opening (like
clock-watching in school) is always a good idea, cause it'll always make
you feel bad if you do that...

Oh, and never ever start a conversation with "I miss..." cause you'll spend the entire day
craving that item, eg:
grass/puppies/rain/seafood/sushi/green salads/trees/did i mention
rain?/baths/beer less than four years out of date/fizzy
coke/smells/birds/root beer/double beds/spas/water of any
kind/shorts/beachwear/warmth/thunder/real icecream/animals - even flies/


perhaps I got a little carried away. :) Only kidding. Well, mostly.

I am actually doing really good, though I won't pretend its all a breeze.
I am still having a ball, and am nearly sane (well, about as sane as when
I got here, which isn't saying much).

Hope you had fun with this, and that you are all well and happy,

big smiles

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