Jen’s Journal: The Unlocking

This may come as a surprise,  but the seasons and weather are very important to me. They give a percussive, underlying rhythm to my life and I walk by it every single day. There aren’t many days or even moments where I don’t view my life and what’s going on inside it within the context of the nature taking place around me.  I have my particular feelings and opinions about each season.

And now we enter that fickle transitional period of winter — > spring.   I always get a little restless this time of year. Maybe because the earth is too, and I try my best to mirror whatever the trees do, as a rule.  But I feel restless, noticing full well the sun outside my window but feel a real trepidation at allowing myself to go out, to be outside just for the sake of being outside, something I end up vowing never to do again until I am SURE the snow will never show its ugly face again.  But I’m noticing the signs and try to make sense of them. I’m noticing the buds on the trees and the slivers of tulip leaves slicing through the earth, slipping through unnoticed until they’re just there, startling everyone, like one of nature’s many pranks. It’s a brave new world during a brave new time. And we find ourselves facing it again, waiting to be reintroduced.

I can never put my finger on why this transitory period is so difficult for me. Is it difficult? Maybe unsettling is the word.  Never quite knowing my place in the natural context. Am I here or am I there? Is it time? Where do you want me? How do I feel? What IS my place? Where AM I going? All of those silly questions begin flashing through my mind as the reel starts up again, thoughts I’ve had before as an eerie celebration of the anniversary of questions I always have this time of year.

I am in the midst of collecting poetry and a classic that recently came into my path is Nothing Gold Can Stay, by my good pal Robert Frost.  I always thought it was sort of a commentary on beautiful things and how they’re fleeting, but I realized it’s really a poem about spring. Examine:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

And I further realized that spring is not a destination, it’s a thoroughfare, and a glorious one.  It’s transitory essence is like a sunrise, the budding trees a stepping stone to the more stable summer green. It’s elusive because it was never meant to last. It’s the earth being re-born and like birth, it’s a beginning- a traumatic, violent celebration trumpeting of things to come, but not of itself. His poem speaks to the tragic impermanence of beauty but lest I forget, it’s also cyclical. Repetitively fleeting, a fly-by glimpse of reminders of hope I’ve luckily been witness to before, and will again.

Well. A friend recently sent me an excerpt that I love and that, I think, finally explains a little bit of the happy dissonance taking place. Because I do enjoy or at least appreciate it. I’m excited! But also nervous. It’s like a tightly bound thrill beginning to be unfurled. Spring! Or is it? Yes? No? When? Soon? SPRING! Is it??

Here’s the answer, and a possible response to Frost, as explained by Kurt Vonnegut:

One sort of optional thing you might do is to realize there are six seasons instead of four. The poetry of four seasons is all wrong for this part of the planet and this may explain why we are so depressed so much of the time.  I mean, Spring doesn’t feel like Spring a lot of the time, and November is all wrong for Fall and so on. Here is the truth about the seasons. Spring is May and June! What could be springier than May and June? Summer is July and August.  Really hot, right? Autumn is September and October. See the pumpkins? Smell those burning leaves. Next comes the season called “Locking.” That is when Nature shuts everything down. November and December aren’t Winter. They’re Locking.  Next comes Winter, January and February. Boy! Are they ever cold! What comes next? Not Spring. Unlocking comes next. What else could [March and] April be?

Ah ha! And there we have our answer! Fickle March is fickle because it isn’t winter and it isn’t spring! It’s unlocking!  And that period after fall has finished but before winter has begun is the last few sweeps of Earth tidying up and closing shop. Locking.   I love this so much, it explains so much. It’s not spring that I’m disturbed by, but this strange yet exciting unlocking that is its precursor, a prophet of its poetry.   It gives a balm to my soul, a name to my feelings, and I wish you and yours a very thrilling Unlocking indeed.

Jen’s Journal: Happy Winter?

This winter has been the wintriest I think I’ve experienced since moving to Utah 4.5 years ago coming from Brooklyn, NY, where my family and I lived and loved for 11 years. Here in Utah, we’ve had some recent snow-on-snow-on-snow business and it’s a little bit crazy, a lot unusual, and even exciting.   New York winters traumatized me in a way I know no other place will. I was recently at a gathering with friends and as we exited, one friend in particular and i paused to continue our chat in some inclement weather. Another friend remarked on our devotion to friendship as we stood in the rain to converse. The friend I was engaging is from Oregon, aka “land of rains all the time” (I think that’s on the license plate)  and said this was her favorite kind of weather and she could just live in it all day. This other friend then asked me, “Jen, were winters just so magical in New York? Did you just love it?” And the way she said it, so dreamy and full of whimsy and love and hope compelled me to shatter the notion swiftly and harshly– “Are you KIDDING ME? Winters in NY are a veritable HELL!” and then launched into an emotional tirade, as is the custom for anyone who’s experienced a NY winter, or, dare I say, some kind of trauma where you felt personally and deeply wronged:

“The inescapable cold itself is soul-destroying. But the snow! Multiple times it snowed over two feet in a single storm. And that’s not including the subsequent storms in days after! We were literally marooned and couldn’t even leave our apartment! The subways and public transit schedules were utterly demolished, multiplying and confounding everyone’s commute or laughable efforts just to get from A to B. Walking out in it was a follow-up to a nightmare, as the sidewalks were unwalkable, un-stroller-able, and, as it slightly melted, with literal feet-wide dirty slush rivers to hurdle or ford because you had no other choice.”  Anyway, I’m pretty sure by this point my friend had already politely slipped away, gotten into her car, and sped off, but I probably had a few more [paragraphs of] words to say about it.

That said… I am not hating all of this snow(!) What did I just say? That’s right.  I can hardly believe it. One school morning, we woke up to a real life blizzarding white-out.  Drifts blown high, the wind still gusting with great vigor, streets un-plowed, a treacherous night storm with unfinished business. Some areas of snow stood 3 feet deep, others not 2 inches.  Strangely, as anti-snow as I have been in my life, I actually enjoy snow driving. Though I’ll take all kinds of excitement, frankly. I grew up maneuvering in snow and I think my experience driving in New York, alone + in NY snow has made me believe I am snow-driving invincible. If I can do that, I can do an-y-thing.  School there was canceled regularly due to snowstorms, but I knew we would not be so lucky here.

I gleefully said to my son, “Get in the car, and we’ll see what happens!” as we left to brave the storm to get to school. On the way, treading new paths, we slid a little bit to and a little bit fro. The wind hurling snow darts into our view from every direction. Headlight-shaming other drivers for not turning on their lights (c’mon people, teamwork!)  It was exciting and I thanked the good heavens above for our sturdy large vehicle with high ground clearance {prayer hands}. As I returned from drop-off I saw another neighbor struggling in vain to shovel out his small car with his son belted inside it. So, having made the journey successfully and, as usual, feeling like I can CONQUER ANYTHING, like a hero with superpowers (or a decent snow vehicle), I took his son to school as well.  And then I went to help shovel the neighbor who gave up and pushed the car back into the drive because that stuff was just bananas.

So the snow and my change of heart (for now) about it.  It makes winter and having to endure it actually mean something. I can still go out in it if I want and I have things to occupy and it makes the cozying-in factor increase exponentially.  Now, it’s still early February and, as I read on a meme recently, “January was a rough year, but we made it,” so talk to me again at the end of March, but right now I’m OK and this is a thing to be celebrated.  In addition to the snow (I can’t believe I’m saying that), I’m going to go ahead and list the things that are helping me survive. Perhaps they may be of some use to you:

  1. I bought a sun lamp.  Or, I bought my husband a sun lamp that I borrowed for a minute. (in “winter” time, that = 3 months) I set it down next to me in my favorite chair and I force myself to just sit and read with faux-rays beating down on me for 30-min light therapy sessions and I swear it works like magic.  I walk away cheerier and more bright-eyed and energized. What a thing. So it’s either scientifically effective or a freakishly strong placebo effect; I do not care which.
  2. Yoga. Yoooogaaahhh.  My yoga classes are saving my life right now. I discovered yoga for myself last fall and I love it so much. Getting out a couple times a week to re-center and re-establish that good ol’ mind/body connection has done wonders for my mental health.  It is pure therapy and I think I’ve noticed an increase in my strength, range of motion, and flexibility! (Say that last part like it’s suddenly a commercial for it, like I’m advertising for yoga, because I am). Really though, I can’t say enough about the good it does for me.

  3. The hygge is alive and well.  Hygge, a defining quality of the Danish culture which I heartily subscribe to, is one of coziness, calmness, and slowing down, to foster feelings of contentment and well-being. With book-reading, two cats, several pairs of fuzzy socks and blankets and tea to last a lifetime, we are doing well.  We recently conceded to get a Wii (like, the old school one, and I’m betting that’s as far as we’ll go) and we play that regularly. It’s totally fun and makes us feel like we’re exercising, which is what people were saying about it 10 years ago. But, there is something to be said about simply choosing to embrace the winter, facing it head-on (with a decent scarf). 
  4. As a bonus item, we recently got my tween-age son a punching bag and hung it downstairs. Ha ha ha.  Yup. Little kid needs some kind of energy release. It came with kid-sized gloves and it is awesome. I’m trying to think of ways to incorporate it more as a way for him to cope with stress and winter restlessness.  “Oh, time to punch it out?” “Better go punch it out.” But he’s good at it, punches seriously hard, I’m getting really good at singing Eye of the Tiger, and I kind of want to rent it out to neighbors or something (as well as get some gloves for me).

So happy–dare I say HAPPY– winter to us all!