Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jack Frost Roasting on an Open Fire...

...chestnuts nipping at your nose...
That’s not how the song goes? Dear me…how embarrassing!

Be that as it may, winter is hurtling toward us with icy wings outspread to engulf the world—or something equally dramatic. Days are shortening (in the Northern Hemisphere at least), and I am beginning to remember why it is that winter gets to me after a while. Sure, I like autumn; I love the colored leaves and the scented air and the tempered chill. But then snow falls. Fortunately, I haven’t had to shovel yet this season, but my body knows that, sooner or later, this will change. I get sore just thinking about it. Even with the overhead lights on and seemingly every lamp in the house glowing without the dimming hand of their proper shades, the shadows still gather in looming squadrons at the corners of my vision, about the edges of the room where even the lamps’ cold gleam can’t reach. At times like these, I wonder why I claim to love both autumn and winter. What’s wrong with summer? Isn’t spring really the most delightful season of all? (It almost is.) What on earth led my addled mind to believe I actually enjoy the cold drudgery and the weary days when even coffee takes no toll on the sluggish highway of my thoughts?

Without fail, I always forget how gross winter can be. I lose sight of the long hours scooping, lifting, shifting snow, only for it to fall anew. The process feels meaningless. I move frozen water, and it melts. All that work for seemingly nothing, since in the long run, what have I really gained? Come winter’s end, I have no lasting souvenir of all those sweaty hours torturing my arms and back as plow trucks rev their engines and squeal out of the intersection as if that will impress me. Dude, if you really want to impress me, get out and help me shovel! But I digress.

Like drudgery and misery, pain fades quickly. On Sunday, for instance, I ripped off the tip of my toe—fortunately not to the bone—and already that’s ancient history (which says nothing about my attention span). Looking back, I can’t honestly recall how much it hurt, though I know it did. Another example—after writing and rewriting last November’s project about a quarter million times, I set the work aside, spent the summer lollygagging, and promptly forgot how much effort I’d put into it. Now, my head knows it was a boatload of blood, sweat, and tears, but my emotions are in denial. So here I am, typing away, feeling as though my completed book were simply handed to me, as though it were merely dropped into my lap, as though I didn’t actually work for it as much as I should have. Stuff and nonsense.

Back to winter. Of course I remember the wonderful details:  the warm fuzzy feelings, the pleasant moments, the tantalizing smells. I tend to block the other times, the ones with tears and tissues and torment. So reviewing my life is like watching reruns of my favorite show through a nostalgia filter. It is idealized and inaccurate. Still, I wonder if that’s a measure of how we cope, if we’re meant to magnify the good times, within reason, and to lose sight of the days that ached. Just think—if the weight of every dreary winter stuck with me always, I believe I would soon learn to dread the changing of the seasons. Instead I take delight, though each year I learn anew. But alongside this painful rediscovery rests the compilation of nostalgia from all my previous experiences. That outshines the sorrow of winter and dying.

Every season is bursting with memories and happy ghosts, moments pressed between the pages of my history to rustle and breathe anew when the wind catches them just right. And winter is wind like no other. I am haunted by a thousand snapshots of icy-tipped noses above steaming hot chocolate with the sticky red of a candy cane pressed between cherry fingers. I seem to hear, even now, voices layered over each other, past choruses joining with present in ethereal harmony. Nameless nostalgic tremors seize my spine, whispers of memories filed too deeply for my grasp, but there and comforting just the same.

Some seasons trap glowing moments better than others—at least, I find it so. Spring is spectacular, and summer has portfolios of its own, but autumn and winter combined are the true archives. Perhaps that is because more events are crammed between their covers than in the other half of the year. Last NaNoWriMo (I can’t help but smile in recollection), I wrote a book. Since then, I’ve polished it to my satisfaction. This year, I finished three books and two partials, and now I have my editing cut out for me, which is by far my favorite part of the process. I can’t tell you how many wonderful feelings come from that alone. Then Thanksgiving rolls along with family, food, and fun new adventures. Christmas follows, and do I even need to elaborate? After that shines New Year’s Day, which has the added gloss of being my birthday. So I wonder if spring and summer are merely the seasons of recovery meant to prevent autumn and winter from growing old.

That’s one issue I’ve been struggling to learn, but don’t worry, because I’ll eventually forget how difficult it was. You cannot have good moments without bad; you cannot have highs without lows; dawn would mean nothing without night. For every stellar writing day, I have five lesser ones. That’s life. And trying to seize the same enjoyment every time is as pointless and harmful as trying to lift a semi. I would strain something. Consider:  if I ate ice cream every night, aside from getting fat, I would also get bored. Ice cream would stop being special, because I would soon take it for granted. But if I tasted ice cream infrequently, not even once a month, it would always be new—it would always be a highlight.

So this season, I’m trying to remember that nostalgia comes with patience and, like cheddar, it’s better aged. Happy moments aren’t fluttering birds to be caught—they are gifts dropped unexpected on our doorsteps. If I rush headlong into the holidays with the goal of accruing as many fuzzy feelings as I can, I wonder if I’ll end up disappointed. And I don’t want to wear myself out chasing something that wasn’t meant to be manufactured like that. What I am going to do is enjoy this season for what it is and what new treasures I will chance to stumble upon, knowing that retrospect will lend me the honeyed glow I crave.

I’m also going to buy seven floodlights and a lamp. Winter, beware.

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