The opening lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III read: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” Steinbeck was inspired by these words and used them as the title for one of his most famous works, so I figure I’m keeping good writerly company if I do the same! I have been reflecting on the theme of Hibernation and how this term speaks to my dichotomous experiences as both a writer and teacher. To reframe what can, at times for me, feel like discontent as I navigate all of my life’s competing roles, I took the liberty of playing with Steinbeck’s title, rearranging it to reflect my truth: “The Winter of My (Dis)content.”
I am a high school English teacher by trade. I have spent years unpacking texts with students, working with metaphors and turns of phrase that other brilliant writers have used to point my class to see… with some help from their teacher… the world a little differently. Together we question the assumed definition of words—like “winter” for example—and in discussion see what new meanings emerge in different contexts. For my students in Toronto words like “winter” and “hibernation” might connote imagery of cold weather and sleepy animals. But these same terms could just as easily be reframed to mean something less obvious—like the quiet of a heavy snowfall, and the feeling of safety that is embodied in a space of hibernation.
I would like to say that I am writing this piece curled up in cosy socks, sitting on my living room couch in front of the Christmas tree. My laptop is perched on my crossed legs and a mug of hot coffee is within reach. No filter is needed for that picture! But the lighting is less flattering in my true-to-life snapshot. Instead I am writing this essay on my short break between student meetings, sitting huddled in my college classroom with my coat zipped and my hood up. The campus is ever expanding and my classroom is in the middle of a construction zone so the heat gets turned on and off randomly. I am in the opposite of comfy socks, and as soon as I finish this paragraph someone will hear the click of my heels as I rush to the other end of campus for a meeting—carrying both my work computer, my personal laptop and my lunch (because campus food is just too expensive!). There is no coffee mug in sight. (There IS a Starbucks two floors down with an almost drinkable dark roast that I will purchase on route to said meeting. My hope is to arrive, coffee, bags and heels intact.)
I am chilly but I am not unhappy. I am just busy, with less time to spend in a state of reflection than I think begets good writing.
What if I’m wrong? What if “good” essay writing for me is made possible because of my life’s dichotomous realities. It is December of 2016 and in this winter season, I wonder if my (dis)content is rooted in a desire for physical hibernation because I find it hard not to focus on the new year I see before me, one that is in many ways already but not yet. But what quiet winter secrets could be buried under the snow that blankets this season in my life? I have taken to keeping a moleskin journal in my purse. I find myself filling it with jot notes, thoughts for future writing projects before they fly from my very full mind. In an “ideal” world I would like to grow them into carefully tended essays. I channel Montaigne, composing “On Motherhood” and “On Walking” whilst running across my various campuses. Yet, is it perhaps a blessing that life has obligated of these cold months that I hibernate my ideas for future essays in this thin grey journal? To paraphrase Arendt, perhaps they are being protected from the “harsh light of the public” for a little while, schooled away in my notebook, further enhanced and developed by new lessons that I live everyday.
I have also been running again in the evenings! For 12 minutes on the treadmill I have started to make it a practice to say little prayers—offering thanks to the Divine, and listing for myself the various happenings of my day. Even though my desire to remain inside to write and read competes with other responsibilities that obligate me to run out of the house at 7:30 in the morning, I am finding that on the treadmill, in the midst of those prayers, essay ideas knit together into sentences and every once in a while a complete paragraph. And what is an essay but a series of carefully composed paragraphs? These ideas grow inside me, nourished like a hibernating animal on the food it gathered in the Fall. Instead of succumbing to the anxiety of needing them out of my head, I will strive to keep them warm and safe, protected inside the pages of my journal, for the time being shared only in my running conversations with God.
Because snow melts and seasons change.
I have learned that when submitting to a journal for publication some will ask for a secondary title. This essay’s alternate title: “Spring is already but not yet.”
Dr. Natalie Davey is a teacher, facilitator and writer. As she navigates her various roles, Natalie credits her her husband and two year-old with keeping her grounded… and finds creative solace for her busy mind in the kitchen (thanks Instagram foodies)!