Spring’s Promises

when more than was lost has been found has been found
and having is giving and giving is living-
but keeping is darkness and winter and cringing
-it’s spring(all our night becomes day)o,it’s spring!

E.E. Cummings

Hi there 🙂

I’ve been painting outside every sunny day in April. I have about a dozen blog post ideas to go with the project, but it’s the middle of April already and I still haven’t written anything. So forget about blog posts. Forget about polished essays. I’m going to write letters instead, so that I might take you along for at least a bit of the ride before it’s all over.

Just a moment ago, I was talking to an elderly friend. In the spring, she tells me, she drives like a drunkard. A lot is different now that she’s older: she’s been having trouble sleeping, the minor crises of daily life overwhelm her so much these days that she hardly has the time to go out walking, but still: it’s hard not to hit the curb when she spots a magnificent magnolia or a yard with a daffodil field.

This is how I want to live my life. That magnetic pull of beauty – it’s a guide, even if I don’t always know where it’s taking me. May it stay with me into old age.

So whenever the sun goes out, I go out too, paintbrush in hand. I’m working as a programmer halftime right now, soon to be fulltime, I’m translating on the side, I’m spending more time with friends than I have in years, I just joined a gym, and still, whenever the sun is out, I steal an hour or two for painting.

It’s crazy, it’s unsustainable, and it’s impractical. I bike 15 minutes uphill to my Mount Auburn Cemetery, my favorite painting location, so some days I only have half an hour left to paint. (Yes, “my.” It was initially a typo, but now I’m claiming it as my own.) I use oil paints: the messiest, most expensive, hardest to set up of the mediums I work in. What can I do? Those are the things I love.

It’s crazy. It’s unsustainable. It’s impractical. So is spring.

I want this letter to be inspiring, but I don’t want you to come away thinking, as I often mistakenly do, that you need to be this exquisitely, excruciatingly energetic all the time.

I basically didn’t do anything this last fall and winter. I only cried, did yoga, and slowly processed the end of an important relationship. (Okay, I also learned to program, but I was very conscious of how much longer that took me than it would have under “ideal conditions.”)

I’m not saying this to make you feel bad for me. It was hard, but it was also a beautiful time. I can’t stress this enough: I love crying. I learned so much this winter. I would never be sprinting through spring if I hadn’t lingered inside winter for as long as it took.

I’m saying this to reiterate: spring is unsustainable. Doing everything, all the time, is no way to live. But I want you to go away with permission to do everything (or nothing!) when it feels like the season to do so. Permission to burst into periodic bloom.

Yesterday I painted a sun-gilded willow behind an exorbitantly pink magnolia. I made the painting sing with a few bold strokes. To capture the glow of light and blossom, I had prepared my canvas with a layer of fluorescent acrylics. After this step, everything came together shockingly quickly; half an hour in, the painting could pass for done.

Spring is always so full of promise. It’s alright now, it says. You survived.

When spring called out to me two Aprils ago, I had just passed my dissertation defense. Last April, after making it through the (what felt like) the worst of the pandemic, I had just gotten my first vaccine dose. And this year is so full of promise I don’t even know where to start.

What are spring’s promises worth? Around the corner from my PhD defense were two years of semi-employment. The vaccine was followed by omicron, followed by the war in Ukraine. Spring never warned me of heartbreak, never mentioned loss.

I ruined that painting. It wasn’t mine yet, it was only a stroke of luck, so I kept going, marking it as my own, until I obliterated its freshness.

What are spring’s promises worth? As little as the privilege to begin again, with joy. As little, and as much, as spring itself.

Happy April!

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