Now that election day has come and gone (Scott Brown was not elected, which is a blot on Massachusetts's record... though we did make up for it by putting a Kennedy back in office!) and I have put in my vote for the libertarian presidential ticket, I must reflect on the winter silence already well established. As a proud native of Massachusetts with proud roots in northern New Hampshire, I must admit that I hate the cold. My ideal residence is New Mexico, for the year-round warmth and the low cost of living (on my bicycle trip across the country last summer, New Mexico was by far the cheapest place to stay). While writing this post I am currently wondering how often I will have to work in the library this winter because my home is freezing. I don't want to change the temperature in the house, either, because then I'd feel guilty for using more energy.
Still, with all of my complaints, I realize that I have missed the winter silence. Three years I spent in Washington, D.C. Except the one year out of those three that I traveled to South Africa, where it is not winter in January, I was able to spend a few weeks at home; but those visits to home were always spent resting indoors. And in D.C., as in any city I imagine, it is hard to hear the silence that winter brings. It is there, sure, but not with the same overwhelming pervasiveness that I am used to. Here, in the silence, I remember what I came to discover in the last couple of years before my hiatus in D.C.: I do not hate winter. Yes, I hate the cold and will always, and I will also always dread the coming of winter and look forward to the summer, but once here the winter provides a place where my mind, my life, can calm and reconnect with myself and with God.
I love the sound of birds singing and feasting, of children playing on my street, of families gathering and loving, and of my town springing into life. We all, though, need a break; and a reminder, a reminder in the stillness of who we are. Many religious thinkers of all traditions have expressed the need for silence and stillness and have warned against the danger of too much stimulation. Those who share these thoughts tend to condemn modern society. True, our society nowadays makes it easier to be always stimulated with mindless things and to not live a good, informed and examined life, but humans are the same as ever. I am one of those who praise stillness and silence, and one of those that rarely make time for it. The coming of the winter silence has forced these great values onto me. For that I am thankful. Indeed, I personally am thankful that Advent, the start of the new Christian year, comes during the winter silence: so that I, and we, can re-commit and re-joice (not a word, but work with me) to and in Christ and who we truly are.
Many find that the winter speeds life up, what with the holidays and everything. But clearly life is meant to slow down with the still and silent winter all around us. We, like animals, are meant to store up and then remain still. Some of us unfortunately are unable to store up--that is when the rest of us who are privileged are meant to share so that we all can slow down. Whether or not that happens, I encourage us all to take a cue from nature and be still and silent this winter. Not to recharge, necessarily, but to re-discover who we are.
As a writer, I have already begun that process. I've talked a lot about the two forms of artists/writers--the stereotypical "hippie" ones that are more or less always on the move, and those, like me, that are no better but instead are often alone and only mentally engaged. I imagine that the winter silence is generally welcomed only by the second form of artist/writer. Since I am one of those, I have already begun to pick back up the spiritual disciplines that I had been neglecting which has enabled me to do a whole lot more and do it joyously: pick up more reading which I had allowed to slacken, letter-writing which had become non-existent, and re-dedicate myself to my writing which had seemed impossible to do as of a week ago.
The lesson here, if ever there is a lesson in anything I say, is that writers, indeed every person ever conceived, is more or less productive in certain seasons. Sometimes those seasons come when we least expect them to. I never thought that winter would be a good time for me as a writer. But here I am, a week in to what I would classify as winter (I define seasons by temperatures. Fall had started as early as mid-August for me), and I have been more productive than in the entire month and a half previous. As my friend Alexandra has often told me, and had to repeat recently, we have to make allowance for these times and seasons and not expect ourselves to work hard all the time. Apparently, though I love and prefer the too often condemned "Hispanic" attitude towards work, I had fallen into the trap of Ben Franklin: work work work work. My vocation as a writer makes it easier for me to argue against such an attitude. Regardless, even if we think that our jobs demand of us a Franklin attitude, it is a dangerous trap to fall victim to.