Winter Solstice: the start of a season that came in early, as it so often has (though less often lately). The darkest day of the year, and in dark times. Yet also, halfway out of the darkness. From here, as the winter settles over the landscape, we are just waiting for the Spring and new growth.
Yet I love the contrasts of winter. The bitter winds and deep snow bury the landscape, making everything at once more dynamic and more still. The woods seem deeper, and yet more welcoming. The mountains seem higher, and yet more fulfilling. The cold is chilling, but invigorating.
I met a wonderful man from Iran the other day, and he told me that his family celebrates the new year in the Spring—when everything is new and reborn; when celebration is warranted and longed for. In this country, we celebrate the new year in the dark.
Yet, I think the dark times make everything more meaningful. Only that which is most firmly itself can carry through.
Image Credit: My own
For those of us with the drive to explore, limits are fascinating and inexorably attractive things. For us, limits are always questions. Which limits are hard limits? Which are soft limits? Can you, through intentional flirtation with the boundary, turn the one into the other? Can you see and do things no one else realizes are possible?
Our societal experience of limits is similar. Yet, I think the drive of the explorer is not the only experience we have. Continue reading
People have been going on forever about returning to the good old days, the days of their youth, and the days when America was great long before Donald Trump ever got hold of the idea. Longing for the days of yore is baked into our society, to the point where the very idea that something is old, to many people, gives it weight. So we trust in ancient remedies, recall days of chivalry and valor, and yearn for good old Nuclear Family America.
Unless we studied History. Those of us who studied History know that yearning for the good old days dooms you to an infinite wait at the lost luggage counter for imaginary bags.
Honesty is the most important thing—at least, that was a value I learned growing up. No criticism was left unspoken, nor was there any thought that it should be. I learned to value blunt, direct language. I learned to say what I thought. I learned to be brutally honest, and to believe it was the right thing to do.
What I learned was not unique. I see a lot of people who prefer to be direct and who find honesty refreshing. I know a lot of people who find subterfuge and subtext exhausting, and who are actively annoyed by people who weave and bob and refuse to say what they think. And I, like a lot of other people, am actively annoyed by the fact the public figures say whatever they think people want to hear with no regard for truth. Honesty, I think, is objectively valuable.
What I didn’t learn, at least for a while, is that brutality and honesty need not go together.
Spring in New England has always felt like a tug-of-war between winter and summer. Some years, April brings harsher winter weather than March, even harsher than we’ve had since December. Other years, it feels like summer arrives early and April is more like a June without shade. Most years, regardless, there is a cascade of clean snowmelt off the peaks and mountainsides, flushing the forests and brookbeds of winter’s accumulated detritus. Most years, the melting snow is a cue for us to wake, and stretch, and explore.
This year there is no snow to melt.
Perhaps I am too much a student of Tim O’Brien, but I believe that the purpose of stories, literal or otherwise, is to contain truth. In his magnificent opus, The Things They Carried, O’Brien gave us the truth of being a soldier during the Vietnam War. It did not much matter that many of the things in his book were not literal events, because they contained the rich truth of that experience. Stories shine when they convey a truth of experience too big for simple events.
Which is not to say events do not matter. There is another, related role for stories: to provide context for the world in which we live. They are foils for everything we see and experience, catalogues of sensation and emotion, especially and personally constructed to anchor us on deep, shifting sands. So we would like our stories to feel true, in Tim O’Brien’s sense, and also be true, in a more literal sense. And yet, we also conflate those two.
We all tell ourselves stories about the world—stories to help us reduce the component parts into things we can understand. Sometimes those stories describe the world, and sometimes they describe what we wish the world could be. Usually, I think, they are a little of both.
The edges are always fuzzy, and the connections can be tenuous, and sometimes there are gaps in the stories we want to tell ourselves. Sometimes we just leave those gaps there, unanswered and honest. But sometimes we flail in the fuzzy gaps, and sometimes we try to fill them in.
It’s almost a meme, outside of scientific circles, to use quantum physics for this; after all, quantum physics is pretty cool, pretty attention-grabbing, and pretty unintuitive. Can’t quantum effects be that little bit of magic we secretly hope for?