The winter of discontent

Photo by Paula McCartney / via New Yorker

You can’t tell how cold it is from the Instagram. In it the sky is clear and the snow is white and the ice on the window are delicate filigrees and the steam from the steel pipe in the neighbor’s roof makes young clouds that run away. The branches are bare and still. The coldness you see doesn’t reach into your bones and make them ache.


This is the second time this year I’m spending the week alone. Have you ever tried living alone? You may have. More specifically, have you ever tried living alone with nothing to do? I mean, in the sense that you are without a job and therefore beyond the reach of arbitrary deadlines; in the sense that you can clean the apartment, or not; cook, or not; watch television, or not; read and write, or not; head out into the cold, or not. There are no obligations to anything or anyone other than yourself.

Two things I’ve learned from this lack of accountability. 1. I find myself in social situations explaining and justifying to others, but mostly to myself, why I’m not doing anything. By anything, I mean having a job. We are what we do, professionally, and right now I don’t have a business card or title to hide behind. (But this is America! You invent yourself! This brings me to the second thing I learned.)

2. When there’s no one pressuring you, you are left with your own impulse, or the attempt to find one. It’s great to have this time when you know what you want to do. I suppose the time taken to find out what it is exactly you want to do will also be time well spent, though it does not always feel that way: 30 minutes on Facebook; an hour on WordPress; two hours on Instapaper; an hour of lunch plus an episode of The West Wing; three hours reading; two hours dicking around; two hours dinner; and then TV; and in between, the sitting and standing and walking and shitting and mail collecting and dish washing and twittering and facebooking and googling and thoughts in your head asking what the hell are you doing?


The Millions has pulled together some fine reading about winter/snow. I’ll end off with The Snow Man, by Wallace Stevens.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


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