A Willa Cather winter

9780307959300_custom-b74b240940d1f5c0fca7134c17ea2e56d0164a7e-s6-c30It's been a long winter, says everyone in the US. Me too. Despite my insisting for years that winter is my favorite season, that I crave the cold and dark, I'm leaving it behind this time. No more winter love from me. This winter has been a season of mismanaged expectations. Things I thought would happen never did; things I thought would take longer happened right away. A few times I gave up on things I'd long counted on, only to have them snap open by themselves in the middle of the night like haunted books.

It feels like a Willa Cather winter. If you read My Antonia, you know what I'm talking about: a season you might not survive. Some nights I pick up her Selected Letters, heaving that brick of a book onto my stomach; it's so uncomfortable to hold when you're used to a tiny Kindle. (How did I manage textbooks back in the day? Are my wrists out of shape?)  Still, I read on, enthralled. I'm struck by her challenges, her gifts; Willa the person, not the author. How her dimples shine through her old photos, how through her old letters I start to think of her as a friend.

I didn't keep any letters from my childhood. These days I don't even save emails; I'm purging things wherever I go, trying to make space for something new. I wonder, what kinds of nonfiction collections will be published in the next hundred years, since no one writes letters anymore? How will our future descendants get to know us? How will they know what our winters were like?




Tonight I saw some leaves fall, the first of the season, and I tucked myself deeper into my jacket and laughed out my excitement. It's autumn, my favorite precursor to my favorite season. Everyone gets back to business this month; everyone tries to remember what it is they're paid to do. Everyone lets the laziness linger as long as possible, sure, but there's no escaping the lost sunlight, the passing of time, the packed agendas. I had a board meeting tonight and during it I had to remind myself being present is a choice; good ideas sprout from listening. When I came up with something well-received it was like digging up a grave I'd forgotten was buried; a hand reaching up through the dirt. My mom once asked me if I spent my days in meetings, wonder lacing through her words, and when I told her yes, and some nights too, she sighed and said she was jealous; my mom, whose work taxes her muscles and forces a diet of Advil and early bedtimes.

So fall is ringing the bell, and this weekend I'll spend one last weekend on the beach, only it'll be a different beach, in a stunning house with my closest friends for my bachelorette party. In three weeks I'm getting married and I can't wait. I can't wait for the day and I can't wait for my life and I can't wait, honestly, for it all to be over so life can be normal again, so life can be about what's for dinner and who paid the cable bill and where are we going for Thanksgiving and what's on TV instead of crossing things off a spreadsheet. When fall finally settles in here in New York, I'll be away, chasing the sun down south, clinging on to what's left of summer, and I'll return in end-October with a new season of my own.

Warming up to Spring

Spring, sort of, in Brooklyn. The Philadelphia row home my grandparents lived in always smelled like sauerkraut, and while that sounds like an insult, I don't mean it to be. We would visit a few times a year, and as we pulled onto their street the green awning over their door was the only way I could pick them out of the lineup. As we got older, the television in the house would grow louder; the mess on the dining room table, bigger. There was always a bowl of black olives from a can to snack on, and Pop-pop taught us how to jab our fingers into each olive and eat them, finger by finger, can by can; reveling in the aluminum aftertaste.

Today the office smells like that old row home in Philly, like old-fashioned food and tulips, and this week has been quiet. I finished my book on Saturday and turned it over to my writing group, my critique buddies, and while they read I get to luxuriate in this freedom, this moment before I have more work to do on it. It feels like a spring break of sorts, which is neat timing, considering New York City seems to have closed for the week, too. The subways have been empty; my emails have dwindled as the sun stays up later, stretching out the days. I am warming up to Spring, my least favorite season, as a ray of sun latches onto my exposed forearm and begins to remind my bones of what it can do to me.

Spring's always been a temporary stop on a train to someplace better. Maybe this one will prove me wrong, show me what she's got besides a teasing warmth and an itchy nose.




Today, in Things I Can't Get Enough Of: The Secret Circle, and season reads

"Planets are gathering at the key north, south, east, and west angles of your chart, and those are considered to be highly energetic points." Here is an excerpt from my horoscope this month. (Truly, read Susan Miller. She is amazing.)

I suppose it's because I don't have a religion -- there is much to say about that, and all of it positive -- but because I don't, I've always been intrigued by the universe. The first thing I do whenever I step outside after sunset is look for the moon. I have a cluster of stars tattooed on my inner left ankle. I believe in the power of the elements. I have energy shifts in my body, I have experiences that can't be explained. I try to be conscious of what I offer the world, and what I take.

I tend to read seasonally. In the autumn, I want crisp books, fresh starts, high school hallways, Homecoming dances. I want the turning of the leaves to breathe through my pages. I want sharp winds. I got all of that, plus a lesson in crystals and books of shadows, in The Secret Circle books.

I've talked about witches before, how I still half-expect that someday on an important birthday I'll wake up with powers, or will find myself tapping on tree roots, barefoot in a nightgown, after sleepwalking through a dream. (I don't know. There are no woods around me. I don't even wear nightgowns. And yet, this expectation persists.) Clearly, I'm not the only one with an affinity towards them, especially this time of year, my favorite.

The Secret Circle series is from the early 90s, and you can tell that's the case, and I mean that in the best way. They are vastly different from the television show that's on the CW this season. [I like the books better, but that's so boring to say; they're certainly darker and more dramatic -- but less melodramatic -- than the show, and much more thoughtful.] I read them intensely. I bought some (more) crystals. They did that thing where they seeped into my brain and I kept forgetting whether my memories were from the books or from real life.

I never plan it, but every year in October, I have a day where autumn in all its glory fully hits me. I'll find myself with a free afternoon, or an open weekend, when some cable channel I forgot I had is playing a creepy-movie marathon. I unearth my Halloween decorations and light some candles, and the evening paints itself around me as I get lost in some other world. This time, it was in an old high school in Massachusetts, with a 12-person-strong coven and a quilt tangled around my feet.

Whatever it's like, it's here: summer.

I bit into a fresh blueberry and it tasted like earth, like dirt, like hot sun and dry fields where farmers wore gloves and wiped rolling tears of sweat from their collarbones and somewhere, a great American novelist was watching, observing, getting ready to write it all down. All this from a lone, navy, pungent blueberry. I grew up on a beach, but the sun today is making me think of an imagined farmland. It's land I've never really seen; the middle of America, except for a brief week in St. Louis and a weekend in Chicago and a layover in Detroit, is a mystery to me. I don't know the ways people live out there, but I suppose it's much like here, except without the cement walls weighing them down.

Or maybe it's more like northern California, all wineries and salt-of-the-earth types, which is probably not true but just what I've dreamed up after two vacation stints in San Francisco and Napa/Sonoma.

Whatever it's like, it's here: summer. I spent the weekend before last on a field on the bay watching music on three different stages, dirt blowing into our eyes, caking our cheekbones and ears, wondering when I lost some ambitions, but feeling my bones loosen up with the idea, with the heat.

Then I spent the holiday weekend here in New York (the first time I hadn't spent it on a beach somewhere), holding hands and wondering when I became okay with new traditions, because I am okay with new traditions.