The delicate thing that is a mood


It’s been four days since I split from the ever-lovin’, everlasting sunshine of Southern California to the decidedly cloudier, grayer skies of Portland, and on this fourth day, which Nature chose to fill with uncharacteristic amounts of bright and cheery sunlight, I find my mood has shifted dramatically for the better.


I harbor these dreams, you see, of me, living elsewhere. Somewhere with a chill to it, and some weather. Somewhere I can wear one of my 14 light-to-medium-heavy jackets (accessorized with one of 25 complementary scarves and 10 or so pairs of leather gloves) every ding-dong day. Non-bikini, non-shorts, non-sunblock-wearing weather, where it is crisp all day, punctuated by an extra chill morning and night. Where politically incorrect fires can burn wastefully, beautifully in brick fireplaces, allowing more politically incorrect wastage of heat up the chimney than they emit from the hearth. Where soup and chili and roasty meats (again with the political incorrectness!) are perpetually on the menu, and the principal fruits and veggies are apple and winter, respectively.

Now I’m wondering whether I’m built for unrelieved gray or not.

When the one thought that punctuates the fog that wraps itself around you is “Damn, I feel low,” and it only squeaks through at around 3 or 4pm, when the bulk of the sad, sad day is trailing forlornly behind you, you might want to have another think about this relo thing. Yes, I feel instantly at home here in Portland, weirdly, eerily at home, almost in a deja-vu kinda way. Maybe, however, that is less of an awesome thing than once I thought. Maybe it’s better for me to be a somewhat uncomfortable stranger in a strange and sunny land than it is right at home in a place where my happiness baseline seems to float a good 15 inches in a downwardly direction. Maybe I am so unbelievably mundane that my naturally sunny disposition is not, in fact, natural at all, but like most folks’, a byproduct of extra light during the day.

I get the whole as-much-coffee-as-humanly-possible thing in a way that I did not last year, up in Seattle. And I think it is because last September and October while I was there, Seattle was uncharacteristically sunny. The misty rain and gray I found so noteworthy was, you’ll forgive the expression, a drop in the bucket compared to the usual fall weather. Dour skies call for more coffee, they just do.

Oh, well. Time and circumstances will tell. The BF and I have also toyed with the idea of relocating to a different yet equally grim climate, in a place far less fabulous in other regards than the naturally glorious and culturally significant PacNW. Part of getting away, much like peeling away and paring down, is making it easier to see what’s really there, like it or not.

“Liking” is almost beside the point…



  1. I have relocated from Southern California to places with seasons and chill the way you described. I find that the seasons that have less sunshine are problematic for me, perhaps related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated SAD). I think it takes time to adjust – if you belong there, you’ll figure out how to be happy there too. Good luck!

  2. Colorado – I didn’t think of it when we moved here, but it really is almost obnoxiously sunny (two days in a row of grey is a rare occurrence and almost everyone becomes mildly cranky) BUT we also have real honest to god seasons and excuses to wear cute jackets. My husband doesn’t want to move anywhere that never has snow, and I am now happily addicted to my sunlight, so I think we’re stuck here.

  3. Would this be your first relocation? How have you handled moving before? The ambiguity, the change, getting used to the new place… (cos you will, get used to everything.)

    Weather, huh. So trivial in conversation yet so powerful for the well-being. You managed to capture your mood exquisitely in your writing, so maybe trying it on for size by taking different vacations in spots that interest you is a good idea.

    I’m guessing you’re already at home in yourself, wherever you are.


  4. Thanks for the reminder that my own idealized fantasy of the PacNW may not make for the easiest adjustment from SoCA. My husband keeps telling me that weather matters and I argue with him trying to say that weather isn’t everything until I’m just out of energy. I read him your post over breakfast this morning as a way of saying he might be right. This brought about a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye. He might as well have said ‘I told you so.” I do think I’d better be clear about what is left behind if I leave LA.

  5. Any big move is a challenge, but if you’re clear on what you want and consider lots of options, I’ve found it makes it easier to commit and make a go of it once you’re in the new place.

    So visit lots of places and spend time talking to locals. The Pacific NW is gorgeous and awesome, but there are lots of other places. If it’s awesome weather you want… try Santa Fe, NM.

    Santa Fe has the most polite weather I’ve ever seen. Bright blue-sky, fluffy-cloud sunny days more than LA, and yet: real seasons! Including golden aspen tree foliage in the fall, snow in the winter and monsoon rains in the summer — but very little prolonged-grayness. Snow in town usually melts off by noon, and the summer monsoon rains and crackly lightning storms pass over in a hour or two and it’s sunny again, often with a gorgeous rainbow trailing behind.

    Fall is the crispiest anywhere, with lovely smells of cedar and juniper chimney-smoke and roasting chiles and piñon nuts.

    But it’s a much smaller, slower-paced community than SoCal and they don’t generally think highly of Californians.

    Every place has things you’ll love and aspects you’ll struggle with, so choosing where to physically be takes some soul-searching and leaping with faith… but at least your online community will go with you anywhere. :)

  6. Living up here in Canada, we get the big deal about seasons.

    It’s true that the darkness and cold can be a challenge in the winter … but vitamin D really helps, as do bright light bulbs in your kitchen (makes everything more cheery) and a honey (everyone looks sexier stripping out of heavy clothes and snuggling up).

    Like everywhere else, we have perks – the incredible crunch that REALLY cold snow makes, the wonder of a sunny day with the brilliant glare off the snow and the comment “cold enough for ya?” works to meet anyone. Any the almost unimaginable miracle every spring when snow melts and the gardens begin again. Plus we can visit Quebec for REAL cold and wonderful French meals! It’s all good.

    As others have said, you will bring lots of zing with you to any community you choose. Half the fun is looking!

  7. I find that almost any Portland grey-induced funk can be cured with a trip to Voodoo doughnuts, hot lips pizza or Powell’s. :)

  8. Sigh. There is no getting around it. I feel consistently better mood-wise when it’s sunny. But I love love love Portland so much, that even today, on this cloudy-rainy day after I just spent 3 nice days in Austin, I am so happy to be back.

    I think it’s good you are testing out the Northwest during a particularly rainy stretch, so you’d know what you are getting into. But if you lived here, you would strategize to have regular doses of sunshine throughout the winter. I learned that it’s essential for me, and most of my Portland friends do the same.

  9. Thanks, all.

    Upon reflection, I’m sure—100% positive—that another big reason my mood has been adversely affected is that I’ve been lax about my morning walk. That’s an hour of exercise I’m *not* getting everyday, and that makes a huge difference no matter what climate I find myself in. When it’s an overcast, gloomy situation, it’s even more important.

    Colorado and NM are both lovely, but I wonder if being landlocked would get to me (god, I know—I’m such a baby). Chicago and Ithaca worked b/c there were significant lakes; I’m not sure.

    All this is moot right now. I’m not planning on moving anywhere in the immediate future; The BF’s work has him tied to L.A. and there are other compelling reasons to stay for the time being. But I am on the lookout, and hey, the hunt is fun, in its way.

  10. Yes, move to Santa Fe, they have some pretty fantastic peeps there…or so I hear! :)

    I see you in LA for years and years to come.

  11. According to the Atlas of Canada, Winnipeg has the sunniest winters with the most hours of sunshine during December, January and February: 358 hours. You can have your seasons and sunshine, too. And it’s only a short drive to one of North America’s best beaches – Grand Beach on Lake Winnipeg. Guaranteed not to be frozen from May to October!

  12. Oh boy – you got the Seattle September/October. It’s the meanest trick in the book. I lived in Seattle for 18 years. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been (including Paris) when it is sunny. And it’s sunny…in September and October. That’s it. Otherwise, it’s gray. And cold. Not mid-west, windchill factor pushing the real feel down to minus 17, but dark, dank, moldy never-quite-warm-up cold. Feel like you’re always going to have to wear seven extra pounds of clothing cold. And it’s dark. The northern latitude means long days in the summer (light until 10 p.m.) but very long nights in the winter (bye bye sun, if you even see it, at 4 p.m.). There’s a reason for all that coffee (as you discovered) and beer. And pizza. And donuts.

    Even though so much of LA sucks, being in the sunshine 97% of the year really makes a huge difference. I know now that I could never move back to the Northwest. But it’s good to know there are other options! Maybe we’ll learn to love being landlocked?

    And as long as you’re there, be sure to wear every one of your sweaters, have that extra cup of coffee or tea and do visit Powell’s as much as possible – ain’t nothin’ like it down here!

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