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What About Winter?

Our contributing writer reflects on this season’s narratives and pleasures–“I want to see winter as something not to endure but to discover.”

Win In Winter
Trunk Archive

In winter, you lose hours—light—so something must be gained in its place, right? Nowadays, I'm not so sure. For the past four winters, I've been afflicted with various ailments, making it difficult to fully appreciate the beauty of this temperamental season. As I've gotten older, I've tried to stop framing winter as synonymous with gloom, but some days are harder than others. I want to see it as something not to endure but to discover.

I'm certainly not the first person to consider the virtues of winter. Countless poets have meditated on the natural world and how winter brings the most essential truths to life. Katherine May ignited a global conversation via her manifesto, Wintering. Jacqueline Suskin's A Year in Practiceexplores how the season can bolster anyone's creativity. As a writer myself, I recently went so far as to proclaim:I like winter, but more than that, I respect it. And I do. I respect its paradoxes—the games it plays: the frigid mornings eclipsed by a fleeting 55-degree afternoon. I respect the way it pulls on the collars of our jackets as if to say, “button up” but also “slow down a bit.” You don't have to stop, but perhaps take a moment to figure out where you're going and why.

Still, this time of year tends to invoke competition with the world and ourselves. Comforts that winter asks us to embrace—rest, quiet, and so on—come at the expense of productivity, resolutions, and measurable growth. (Even the name itself begins with win!) When I asked Suskin about the role of "winning" in winter, she reiterated, "Winter can easily come across as a time of loss or lacking, but it's actually a season of great bounty. When the outside world becomes less habitable, the inner world has more opportunity to take up space. As a creative person, this uninterrupted period of reflection that winter provides feels like a win to me, and I long for it in the warmer seasons. When the earth pauses to recharge and rest, so do I."

Courtesy of Rachel Schwartzmann

Courtesy of Rachel Schwartzmann

Fellow writer and community builder LaTonya Yvette (author of Woman of Color,The Hair Book, and the forthcoming Stand in My Window) also shared, "Winning is such a difficult word in the grand scale or season of life. However, I do see the correlation between even 'getting past' winter as a win for someone having a very difficult time with it.” She elaborates, “I often try to look at winter as almost a win for our bodies, according to our circadian rhythm. It’s doing the most important work for the seasons ahead. Creatively, that is when my own best art arrives. As someone who so often has to be 'on,' the unintentional service to myself of isolating so that I may birth something new is probably the biggest win, and to that end, the relief of seeing people—and embracing the work, world, and community—with new eyes once winter has done all its intended work."

Similarly, evidence of a creative breakthrough in my own life has proven to almost always be the most pronounced in winter. Growth takes place closer to home, and new ideas are born from simple pleasures that bring me clarity and calm: a warm midafternoon shower following a busy morning of errands in the cold, dressing monochromatically to brighten myself as gray clouds darken the sky, enjoying a hot cup of decaf coffee with a loved one.

In fact, I ventured out with my husband on one of the coldest days of January to meet some friends for breakfast. We gathered around plates of pancakes, reapplying beanies over our ears and wrapping knits closer to our bodies. In those actions of tightening, there was an act of release, too: For every layer acknowledged, a wall came down. Stories were shared, and warmth filled the room. Last winter, in the grips of debilitating anxiety, I would not have been able to manage this, and glimmers of recurring symptoms—sweaty palms, nervous stomach, heart palpitations—still made their way into the morning. For the most part, I smiled and laughed, but I stole a few private moments of silence, letting the others lead the conversation while my mind settled and eventually found its way back to the table.

Courtesy of Rachel Schwartzmann

Courtesy of Rachel Schwartzmann

All of this to say, winter is not quite a mirror but perhaps that patch on the window pane that emerges after wiping away frost. Some filmy residue may remain on the glass, but we can see our core nature a little more clearly in our reflection: Like winter, we're imperfect, complex, inconsistent, not always bearable, beautiful in our way, filled with darkness and light, forever evolving. Winter breeds the perfect conditions for change but also choice. And I've been choosing to change my mind about how I engage with the season and some of the narratives attached to it: solitude equals contemplation, gathering means connection. Often, it's more nuanced than that. Solitude inspires connection, gathering requires contemplation, and together, they create a wintry mix of mess and humanity.

As Jezz Chung, writer, performer, and author of This Way to Change, puts it: "Everything changes in winter—what I eat, how I take care of myself, the kind of conversations I have. I'm trying to see this change as part of both my creative and healing process. My hope is that this season of clarifying and fortifying will prepare me for whatever's ahead." Lyn Slater, writer and author of How to be Old, also aptly noted, "Unlike the spring and summer, when I am concerned with growing things outside, winter is the time I turn inside and nurture new growth within myself. … When winter ends, I go back outside reinvented and reimagined. Ready to see what may bloom from the seeds that were sown in the winter greenhouse that is my mind."

Whether we're growing through winter together or apart, it's the ultimate test for many—one not graded on a curve, where the markers for success and fulfillment feel further away. But even with the mounting pressure, crises, and despair across the world, I implore you to look at where you are. Look at the habits you're learning to break and the bonds you're trying to build despite the storms. Look at the games and decide whether or not they're worth playing. Look at your foggy reflection in that window pane.

Make it through this season, and what was once considered a matter of winning and losing might instead resemble footprints from a recent past slowly moving toward a future that's yours to shape. In this way, there is no winning in winter. Only living. It's never easy, but it's always worth it. And I can't think of a better way to send you off into the rest of the season than with this: I believe this winter is the beginning of a long overdue exhale. A drawn-out breath that helps me draw out some lighter feelings. So, when I open my eyes tomorrow morning, I'll open my heart. The day will start with a small, tired smile. Then, a question. And eventually, a step outside, which, these days, amounts to a leap of faith.

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