Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter: the hope in our discontents

"Falling snow, boy in window," Paul Himmel (1949)

Studies show this week of January is the most depressing week of the year. The holiday bills have come flooding in, the snow is no longer pretty, and it's a long two weeks until the Superbowl, America's most pagan mid-winter holiday. And after that? Well, we should all be glad February is a short month.

Such doom and gloom, however, is positively un-American. After all, tonight is the annual political ritual in Washington when the President assures us that no matter what else may be awry, "the country is strong." This we know to be a bit of political hand-holding but it's comforting nonetheless to be told once again that all is well, even as we suspect (as we do annually) that this is the winter of our discontent.

Here's Morgan Meis writing at The Smart Set site about giving into the wintery thoughts that can somehow make the season bearable.

It is a time of dreariness and decay. I'm speaking of winter, of course. I always think, when thinking of winter, of the opening lines of Richard III. Richard, the king-to-be, is musing upon the ascension to the throne of his brother, Edward IV. He says, in lines that are burned into the deep pathways of our neural networks, "Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York."

These opening lines of the play are actually quite hopeful. The first word, "now," looks forward to the "made" in the next line. ... But the phrase "now is the winter of our discontent" is so powerful that it often gets picked out of context and made to stand alone. When you do that, it seems as if "now" is the winter of our discontent. The winter of our discontent isn't going anywhere. It is simply the way it is right now.

Winter, in its dreariness and decay, is the season of wanting things to be otherwise.

And yet, some part of us wants winter, some part of us glories in the winteriness of winter. Some part of me does, anyway. I was raised in the perennially pleasant environs of Los Angeles but moved, at 18 years of age, to New York City, where I've been ever since. I did it partly for the weather. I wanted to experience the seasons. I remember telling people that explicitly, even as a young man. I felt that I was going to gain something important in experiencing a genuine cycle of four seasons. ...

It is in the willingness, maybe, to have your winters and to have them in their dreariness and decay, neither surrendering completely to that discontent nor pretending to solve it. The cycle of the seasons is, after all, utterly pointless. It just goes round and round. I do not think any meaning can be found in stepping outside that cycle to explain its purpose from afar. Winter can't be made glorious, can't be transformed into endless summer.

I drove on an empty road just south of Albany the other day early in the morning. Moisture had frozen on the barren branches of the trees. My feet were cold and the joints in the upper part of my legs were throbbing painfully. I find that happening sometimes in the winter as I get older. A wind blew up from the Hudson River and the flaky slivers of ice were dislodged from the tops of the trees. The slivers fell to the ground slowly, twirling strings of tinsel glinting in the sun. Sharp daggers of light falling across the blue and the white. I was hungry and my jaw muscles were tensed from a night of grinding my teeth through unremembered dreams. I don't think I will ever forget the icy tinsel in the morning light during this, the 38th winter of my discontent.

Is there pleasure in giving in to this season of discomfort? One can bar the door and think of the phrase calm blue ocean as a mantra but the sun still sets darkly by 7 o'clock on a icy and frozen scene at worst, at best (as here in the South) cold and wet. The real pleasure we can allow ourselves is to think that even winter will fade away and be replaced by the first flower of Spring.

(Morgan Meis is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for The Believer, Harper’s, and The Virginia Quarterly Review.)


The above fore-mentioned. said...

Hello and Happy Australia, it has been 31 degrees (87.8 f) today and has settled down no at 6PM to 27 degrees. Swap you some heat for some cold!

M Bromberg said...

Thanks for the warm thoughts -- it's a deal. Apparently everyone's crazy weather this year is due to La NiƱa, and not the dreaded global warming, but hey, it's looks all the same to me.