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.