I’ve always tended to be a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Give me a million dollars and I’ll point out that a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. Offer me a free all-expense paid vacation to a sun-kissed tropical island and I’ll soon be researching shark attacks and skin cancer.
I always assumed that was why I fit in so well in England, where, if you comment on the nice weather, you’ll get a response like, “Ah but, we’ll pay for it in the end.” If the sun shines for more than two days in a row, people are glancing skyward with furrowed brows and sighing, “The farmers will be in a terrible state if we don’t get some rain.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that while summer is by far my favorite season, I spend most of it brooding about how soon it will be gone. It used to be that by late June (which by most reckonings is the beginning of summer), I’d be bemoaning the fact that the days were now getting shorter, and that before we knew it, the clocks would go back and the winter snowdrifts begin piling up.
That was bad enough, but the last couple years, I caught myself doing it even before summer had officially arrived. Second week of June, seriously, somebody would say to me, “I’m so glad summer is finally here,” and I’d tell them, “Yeah, but it’s only a few more days until the solstice and it’s all downhill from there.”
This year I decided to try something different, to turn my usual tactic on its head by applying it to the winter solstice. Instead of focusing on the harsh winter weather we can expect to unfold for the three months or so following the 21st of December, I started telling everyone, “Hey, the worst is over! From now on every day is going to be little bit longer and a little brighter. Summer’s on its way!”
This bit of good cheer didn’t elicit as many huzzahs and hallelujahs as I might have hoped for. I’m used to people being annoyed when I put a negative spin on everything; what I didn’t anticipate was that they could be just as annoyed by a positive one.
I can relate, sort of. I know that when I’m in a bad mood and determined to wallow in my misery, I don’t need you to saunter by whistling “Oh What A Beautiful Morning.” In fact, I consider it a form of felonious assault.
Just recently I got unceremoniously told to “shut up” when I helpfully (I thought so, anyway) pointed out that it was the warmest it had been all week and might be a nice night for a walk. Granted, the temperature was still hovering just above freezing, but it represented an improvement over the previous several days. As it happened, I did end up walking a few miles, and actually enjoyed it, not something I’m used to saying about midwinter strolls.
I mentioned this newfound attitude to my niece, the renowned cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, and she, accustomed to me going off at cracked angles about one thing or another, said, “Yeah, I saw you talking about that on Twitter. But personally, I decided to try and make the most of winter this year instead of complaining about it like I usually do.”
“Of course you should!” I told her, “Because it’s going to fly right by the same way summer does. Three months from now you’ll be scratching your head and saying, ‘Where did the winter go? It seems like only yesterday I was getting my hat and gloves out of the closet.'”
A couple springs ago I was walking around Park Slope with my friend Aaron Cometbus and he was actually complaining that the winter was ending too soon. Since Aaron is like me in thinking that a New York City summer is a little bit what heaven must look like, I thought he’d gone insane, even after he’d explained the cyclical way in which he saw things: the winter is the time when you can stay inside for days on end and work on your writing or your drawing or your music or your plans and schemes for the year to come. If the warm weather comes too soon, it drags you out into the streets and parks with a feeling of incompleteness and frustration, so that while you’re happy to be alive and happy to be free from coats and hats and scarves and boots, you’re still dragging around the weight of goals not quite achieved and projects not quite done.
So here I am both savoring the winter and watching it whiz by, two things I honestly thought could never happen. Of course it helps that I have a warm apartment to hole up in, a warm coat to go out in, and a city full of cozy hideouts within easy walking distance. There’s certainly something to be said for whiling away the butt end of the year on the beach in Sydney or Cape Town or Sharm el Sheikh (ha! I just threw that last one in to see if you were paying attention; it’s where a shark or sharks have been gobbling up tourists like nobody’s business), but if you have to spend it in the cold and frozen north, I think New York City does winter better than most.
Not that it matters anyway! We already had a minute more of sunlight today than we did yesterday. Every day from now on we’ll get another minute or even two! Spring is on its way and here’s me barely started on my winter’s work! I tell you, if it’s not one thing, it’s another.