On wintering

Once we stop wishing it were summer, winter can be a glorious season in which the world takes on a sparse beauty and even the pavements sparkle. It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order.

Doing these deeply unfashionable things–slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting–is a radical act now, but it is essential.

Katherine May, Wintering

I spent the winter hibernating.

Not literally, of course, and not completely; I kept getting up and going to work and talking to friends and such. But still, it was a season of purposeful, chosen dormancy. Covid’s omicron strain made it easier than it might otherwise have been because it provided an acceptable (in my circles) reason to go quiet.

Katherine May identifies several different kinds of wintering and ways of entering in to such a season of life; mine has been a wintering of transition, of having “temporarily fallen between two worlds.” I am both retired and not-retired. I am in a process of leaving behind the self I have been for most of my adult life (mother, educator, creative dabbler) and welcoming another whose labels are mostly unknown.

My life has not felt this open in more than 40 years. It would be nice to have the body I had the last time I was in such circumstances, but I’m facing a malleable future with considerably more knowledge and less fear than I had then. I feel more existential threat than I have at any other time, but for now I’ve got a sturdy shelter, economic stability, reasonably good health, and love. I have choices. I am fortunate.

So, what did I do while away?

I read poetry and historical fiction and memoir and self-help. I organized cupboards and put reading chairs in the kitchen and bought a new dining table that sits in front of our big living room window. I wrote poems and memoir exercises and lesson plans and an essay. I took naps on the couch and on the bed, in the middle of sunny days, and against a backdrop of late afternoon rain. I made chicken soup from the whole bird and pizza dough from yeast and flour and beer, and breakfast cookies sweetened with chunks of dark chocolate. I bought a houseplant, and pillar candles for the pedestal holders my grandfather carved at the beginning of his retirement more than 40 years ago. We’ve placed them on the new table. I bought and returned three sweatshirts because none of them was right. I worked a really hard puzzle. I watched TV. I went to the doctor and dentist and physical therapist. I sat outside one day in February’s false spring sun and closed my eyes.

And I began ice skating. (again)

I decided to take a break from blogging and enter into a period of purposeful dormancy because I sensed that I needed some quiet and some space so that things could emerge. What things? I didn’t know, and “things” was as precise a word I wanted when I began. I thought the time underground would bring clarity around writing, perhaps give me some direction in what I want to do or work on. I began working through Julia Cameron’s program for creative recovery and was open to where it might take me. I never expected it to take me to an ice rink.

Right after I turned eleven, my parents gave me a pair of Sears skates and a session of group lessons at our small, local rink. Before I got home from the first lesson I had a private coach and our goal was the Olympics. About 16 months later–after I’d become a member of our skating community and graduated to custom skates and begun consistently landing my first double jump–I quit. One day I went to the rink as I always did, and then I came home and put my skate bag in the back of my closet and never wore my skates again. I did not skate as if it were my last day, even though I knew it was. I did not say good-bye to anyone.

I believe that all of us are given gifts, things we do easily and well that we love doing. Things that others respond to. Things for which we are often given recognition and validation. I have known, for decades, that I was given two: skating and writing. If it is true that there are things each of us is made to do, these two things are mine.

I have also long believed, primarily in an intellectual and theoretical way, that when our gifts are not allowed expression, we are not whole.

Well, now I know it in a different way.

In Raynor Winn’s memoir The Wild Silence (one of my hibernation reads), a person says to her,

“Lots of us find we have to go back to the beginning of our life in order to start again. Back to where we grew up, or where we were happiest. To a time before things went wrong. I see it like pressing the reset button.”

At 12, I didn’t have a lot of power in a situation that I’ve come to see has colored important aspects of my life since. The only power I had then was to walk away, even though it meant leaving the place I felt most whole. But at 57, I’m no longer a child with a child’s limited options. I can’t undo or redo what happened, but returning to skating is allowing me to reset my relationship with my body and to revise an important story from my past. It’s a longer one than I want to tell here, and it’s still unfolding, but what I’m coming to know is this:

We can’t all be tulips or daffodils. For some of us, it is not until the autumn of our lives that spring finally arrives.

Would love to hear how your winter was for you.

Or about what kind of flower you are. Or about stories you’ve been able to revise in your life. Anything, really, about how you are and have been. When I write “Would love to hear…” I’m not just being polite or fishing for comments. I really would. I’ve missed you guys.

14 thoughts on “On wintering

  1. Robin Ruff Leja says:

    I was hibernating too, but I didn’t realize it until you named it. I discovered that I can get free audiobooks from the library, so now I can work on crafts while listening to books. It’s a game changer! I’ve done so much reading, lots of crochet, yoga, and planning for this season’s garden. Made a few tasty pots of soup, but I don’t cook as much as I used to. We eat lighter these days, cooking is no longer important. And when I do cook, it feeds us for multiple days. But it feels like hibernation because I STILL avoid socializing with Covid concerns. Taking baby steps into the world, but not sure I’ll ever be the same in this respect.

    • Rita says:

      All my audiobooks come from the library and yes, game changer for me, too. It’s what gets me through housework and cooking when I’m doing it by myself. I thought I would do more crafty things during the winter, but it just didn’t happen. I have a hard time starting. As for Covid and its impacts: I suspect we will all be changed in some permanent ways. Maybe not in outside ways, but inside. How we feel about socializing and safety. It’s impossible to un-see some things, isn’t it?

  2. Bethany says:

    Rita, I loved Wintering and am so happy to think of you reading it, too. These last few months I’ve been hunkering down in poetry, avoiding the rewrite of my novel that seems called for, and wondering if I’ll ever get back to it. But…reading books and taking naps? I’ve got that covered. I will now look for The Wild Silence. It sounds like just the thing.
    Bethany recently posted…The Poem Itself: A ConversationMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Hi Bethany,
      I first read Wintering last winter, and it was nice to revisit parts of it again. I’m happy to think of you reading a lot of poetry and taking naps. 🙂 The Wild Silence is a follow-up to Winn’s first book, The Salt Path. I haven’t read it, but you might want to start with it? In her 50’s, she and her husband become homeless. Rather than stay in housing for the homeless, they embark on a life outside, walking and living on a long trail–and this is after her husband is diagnosed with a degenerative disease that affects cognition and memory. She wrote The Salt Path as a way to preserve that experience for him–so that he could read about their journey when he had lost his own memories of it. She had never really written before writing that book, and it became a best-seller. It’s an amazing story, in so many ways.

      Good luck with your novel. I’m sure the rewrite will happen when it’s meant to.

  3. Debs Carey says:

    My daughter gave me a copy of Wintering, as she shares her name with the author and people kept asking her if she’d written it. It was a lovely read and gave me a comforting lens with which to look through for the first two years of Covid, the early months of which I spent recovering from knee surgery. But, as an extravert, I’m increasingly feeling the need to be among people again. My partner is, in particular, highly resistant to re-join the world as he’s both Covid hesitant and a natural introvert, so I feel the burden of potential guilt should I bring it into our home via my different social choices. It’s a challenge to find the right balance, but spring’s sunshine is helping me – for my favourite flower is the tulip. Simple, humble and colourful. I admire parrot tulips too, but my favourites are the everyday ones. I shall seek out Raynor Winn’s memoir – it sounds right up my street.
    Debs Carey recently posted…Ha ha said the clown….My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Hi Debs,
      I love tulips, too. I tend to be a fan of simple, humble, and colorful. The previous owners of our house planted a bunch of them in our front yard and they’re getting close to blooming. It’s how I know spring is really here. They were in bloom when I bought the house 4 years ago.

      I can relate to your feelings and challenges regarding Covid. Even though I’m quite introverted, I am also feeling a need to be among people. At work, I am among people. Doing that has shown me that it can be done safely. (Still haven’t had Covid yet, which feels like a small miracle.) Still, I feel uneasy as the mask mandate has gone away (just last week) and we’re now in public spaces with many who aren’t wearing them. I am making peace with an emerging normal in which we’ll all make our own choices about what we will and won’t do. And trying to figure out what that is for me/our family. I think it’s going to continue to be a process.

      Wishing you a healthy spring, with lots of tulips. 🙂

  4. Kari says:

    I’ve missed you! It was so good to see your name on my blog feed this Monday morning.
    I’m so glad you spent this winter doing those things. This sounds similar to what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve recently discovered “shadow work,” which has been eye-opening. I don’t always share what I am learning about myself on my blog because I’m not there yet emotionally. Someday, I hope I can.
    Kari recently posted…Home InsideMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Hi Kari! I’m so glad I did, too! 🙂 I think I’m going to keep doing them.

      Your comment has prompted me to Google “shadow work,” a term I hadn’t heard before. I completely understand why that might be something that’s still just for you. I’ve been thinking some about what I do and don’t want to share through this blog. Haven’t reached any grand conclusions yet. I had hoped to have a clear idea of what I want to do here when I returned, but I’m still in progress–which is feeling just fine.

  5. Ally Bean says:

    “a period of purposeful dormancy”

    Your phrase is a perfect way to describe what you did and what you discerned from your experience. I’m a big proponent of taking breaks, making space in your life for something different, then embracing who you’ve become as a result of the breaks. I did The Artist’s Way years ago, but I’m not familiar with Cameron’s program for creative recovery. Wintering also sounds interesting. Glad to see you back to blogging.

    • Rita says:

      Sorry for the delayed response–life, you know. When I say “program for creative recovery” I mean the one she sets out in The Artist’s Way. The book I have takes that and tweaks it specifically for those who have retired. I don’t think the approach is anything different, but her discussion of it is (I think). I will confess I didn’t complete it, and I don’t think I will now. I lost momentum when I started skating. It felt like that it what I needed to get from it, and I think that’s why it stopped feeling as compelling/useful.

  6. TD says:

    Enjoyed reading your elegant post today. It’s nice to hear about your wintering. My wintering discovered that age cannot be defined by a number of years, yet age can be defined by experiences, conscious and subconscious experiences, constant movement into the unknowns.

    It would be difficult for me to be a flower as I haven’t been successful with growing roots. Perhaps I might be a bird. And, it’s true that we all cannot be tulips or daffodils. I love the autumn flower that you choose.

    • Rita says:

      Maybe you are some kind of bulb? Bulbs can be transplanted more easily than some others, I think. (I wish I knew more about growing flowers.) It’s nice to hear from you, too. 🙂

  7. Dave Bonta says:

    “We can’t all be tulips or daffodils. For some of us, it is not until the autumn of our lives that spring finally arrives. ”
    I choked up at that line for some reason.
    Glad you’re back.
    Dave Bonta recently posted…At the theaterMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thanks, Dave. I find I choke up at all kinds of things these days. I don’t know if it’s stage of life or state of the world, but doesn’t take much lately.

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