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honestly how dare any of these flowers, how dare they
happy fool’s spring, readers! there wasn’t an essay last week because I had Covid (after two years it finally got me) but the good news is that I’ve tested negative and no longer have Covid now. To celebrate, I’m extending last week’s sale through this coming Monday: this time, get 30% off yearly subscriptions if you subscribe now.
subscriptions get you extra content (sub-only essays a few times a month, here are a few of my favorites), as well as access to the subscriber discussion threads (the conversation pit), which are such a wonderful, fun community space, like something out of an older and gentler internet. if you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, or are just curious, the sale is a great way to check out more of it and try out a paid subscription.
anyway, here’s an essay.
The thing is, it looks like shit. I only realized it was that day when I was already in it. There were more people in the park than there had been in months, and almost none of them seemed angry. That ruthless and resigned efficiency of just getting to the next place had receded. The turn in the weather brings uselessness, bodies for the sake of bodies, beauty for no reason at all and nothing to justify it. Spring revives the afternoon, the hours between obligation and sleep. The trees repopulate with leaves and flowers.
None of that had quite happened yet, but everyone was trying. Someone was wearing a sundress even though it was too soon for it. They looked cold and awkward, but happy, walking with a friend in sunglasses neither of them needed, their arms full of useless objects. Citibikes wobbled along the ring road, their riders nervous and unpracticed. On the first spring day, the whole city is a tourist and the whole world is an amateur, with an amateur’s love of doing a thing badly, selfish of the adrenaline and uncaring of the result.
None of it looked good. That’s the secret about that first big horny spring day: It isn’t beautiful. Spring’s guts were out, parts spread haphazard around the driveway. Bare branches and cold ground left over from winter showed uglier with flowers trying to make inroads against them, and the paltry patches of green on the lawns only emphasized the dull muddy browns. The myths and the stories tell us that spring turns beautiful all at once, but that’s not really how it works. First, we have to lie to ourselves about it. To believe in resurrection, we have to talk ourselves into it. The first thing that happens when the world is reborn is that everything looks terrible. This is the turn in the year, in the day and the verb tenses and the feelings. Early spring is a try-hard season, all religious holidays and chilly mornings, attempting to heave itself across a hostile border.
I read and laughed at this tweet last week, about an hour before the NYC Department of Health called me to follow up about my positive Covid result on a recent PCR test. Somebody makes a version of this joke about The Waste Land every year. April really is the month that sucks the most, partly because it’s not supposed to. This is supposed to be when it all starts getting better. But it’s never as easy as that. The weather can’t be trusted, and taxes are due, but mostly April is cruel like the poem says because it asks us to hope again. What right does the world have, after everything, even now, even this year, two years into a plague, to ask us to take our coats off and go outside and feel something. How dare you, I thought at the bright blue day outside, while I texted everyone I had seen over the weekend to tell them I might have given them Covid. How dare you.
April is about hope and the point of hope is getting your heart stomped on, and doing it again anyway. The miracles ask me to make myself vulnerable to them and then refuse to appear. It was cold on Easter Sunday, and I felt sick and exhausted and all I wanted to do was go back inside. I walked from the subway past the parks where the tulips stood out in a riotous carpet of paint-colors, as though no one had told them it still felt like winter outside. I wore my silly little outfit and sat in the back of a vaulted room full of hats and pastel dresses and people I love, feeling like hell and shivering into my thin coat. I wanted so much to believe in a resurrection, in the renewal and re-awakening of the world. I wanted to hear the words; I wanted someone to tell me that nothing really dies and nothing is really lost. I tried to grab the upward leaping sense of yet another millionth second chance, the old predictable story in which we are once again made new. Instead, I found out the next day, all I had done was to potentially infect a bunch of people I loved.
I guess it’s always like this. April is all false starts. I show up ready for spring, only to make a fool of myself. The year I moved to the city, there was a snowstorm on April 7th. For a week or so before that, the weather had almost been beautiful. I went to the park in a t-shirt and was uncomfortable and pretended to be having a great time, hoping that through stubbornness I could force the good weather to arrive. I wanted to drag the future and the better days into view. I focused very hard on the small flowers in the ugly ground and told myself that spring was finally here after a long winter.
I was so cold all that winter, that first year. I guess everybody who moves somewhere cold has a story like this, and I guess these stories are boring. Most stories people tell are boring, especially the ones we pile up in the middle of the table like poker buy-ins to try to make ourselves legible to one another. But I like the boring stories. I like the way we all try to join the next round, scrambling to get in on the harmonies. When people talk about the weather, it’s not because the weather is meaningless but because it is at the center of how we mean anything to ourselves. The seasons turn, the sun comes out, the rain derails our plans. Everything is an insultingly heavy-handed metaphor, a way to admit that we have so much less control over our lives than we pretend to have. Those stories about the first cold winter are stories about change, about the physical discomfort of trying to become something different than what you once were. Talking about the weather is a way to acknowledge how absurd it is that time passes and yet here we are, standing in the middle of it, mixing memory and desire.
Anyway in 2002 I moved here from California and I was so cold all the time. My mom had given me a huge coat she’d found on sale at the Burlington Coat Factory before I left for college. It was poop-brown and lined with thick fake fur. I thought it was hideous, and I only brought it with me because I didn’t want to be rude to her. I was sure that I would never wear it.
Sometime that November, I started wearing it everyday. The coat become, from November to March, and then again in April when a blizzard came out of nowhere and for a few days obliterated the nervous and tentative spring, who I was. It was the way I recognized myself, as much a part of what I looked like as my face or my hair. I was so unprepared for winter, for being cold like this, utterly at the mercy of my own body. Every single thing in my life was new, and I was freezing, flailing around in the ice, wearing my heavy, ugly coat for which I probably never told my mom I was grateful.
When I finally thought spring had come, when I thought I was through the ordeal, it snowed, dumping five inches at least on the campus and the neighborhood and the city. I don’t remember the storm itself but I remember the day after, vivid white lawns with their edges already going grey and melting in the harsh sunlight, optimism coming out with its knives and making everything ugly. Then after the snowstorm, spring finally did come, and I had to convince myself to somehow believe in it again, to sell myself the oldest, flimsiest line, that this time it would be different.
The opening of The Waste Land is a joke about taxes, but it’s also not a joke. That first spring when it snowed on April 7th, I was in a class where everybody else had already read the poem so I pretended that I had too, and then I had nobody to talk to about reading it for the first time, the sweeping devastation of it, the deadened and hopeless and slashed-up feeling of living too far into the future. It feels that way now, in another century, in another set of circumstances, once again so much further into the future than any of us ever intended to get. Here we are, all of us, staring uselessly around a vast and blighted landscape, wondering what to do with it, wondering where everything went and why we weren’t paying enough attention while it did. We busy ourselves with vanity and parties and gossip, trying to shut out the world. Our bright stories smash up in the atmosphere, colliding with reality. How dare spring ask us, after all of this, to raise up our voices for the stone rolled away? What right does anything have to ask me to trust when there is no good reason for me to do so? What does spring think it’s doing, here in this ruined place where we stay up late in our phones and send around memes about the next tragedy?
The vibes in New York are excrementally bad right now. The vibes in the world are bad in general and the vibes here are bad specifically. It is bad in a way where it doesn’t feel like spring should be allowed: We can’t have this, we haven’t earned it. Come back when we’re ready for it, come back when we deserve it. I feel this way about myself, too. I don’t deserve to be dragged forward out of the cold and the dark into the next thing. I don’t deserve to see the flowers push up out of the dead ground. I don’t deserve the bright colors, the soft air, the lilacs out of the dead land.
Maybe that’s the point of it, of religion when it means anything at all, and of seasons when the weather is bigger than small talk: We don’t deserve any of it. Spring comes to New York even when New York is a sad piece of shit, even after all the losses and even as the new ones accumulate. The trees bloom even when I don’t feel pretty enough or kind enough, even when my house isn’t clean and I haven’t figured out how to store my sweaters. Spring crawls in through the window even if I’m too sick to go outside. No one deserves anything, and yet it comes for us all the same. Even if I have changed nothing in my life, the garden erupts into flowers. Second chances arrive each year whether we are ready for them or not.
Hope is brutal and merciful at once. You don’t have to believe in Easter, or Passover, or god or anybody to feel the pull of this time of year. Nothing for which one can attend a religious service is anywhere near as much of a holiday as that first bright horny day in a big city when everybody goes outside. The park froths and flowers and blossoms, overwrought and disgusting, insisting we can start over, promising we can be made new and stupid again.
A little chart goes around at this time of year or just before it. It shows up so regularly that its arrival counts as a season in itself. The chart purports to mark out the real seasons. On the chart, spring has several false starts in it. “Fool’s spring” and “spring of deception” are marked in between winter and actual spring. People repost it on days when there’s a snowstorm in April, when it’s thirty degrees outside one day after it was seventy-five. One version of the chart has an arrow on it pointing at “fool’s spring.” “You are here,” it says, like a map for kids lost in an amusement park.
Fool’s spring. A season for stupidity. This morning I woke up and I wasn’t sick anymore. Being able to breathe normally felt miraculous. I felt new; I felt stupid. It was raining and every tree on my block bloomed wet and lush and green. It was light so early in the morning and I could smell it through the window, the gentleness that takes over after the long harsh months of cold. Maybe it wasn’t real; maybe it would be cold tomorrow. Maybe by the weekend it would snow. But waking up with my face to the window and the early green light coming I trusted it again, like I had never been wrong before and nothing had ever hurt me. If there is any resurrection to be believed in, maybe it’s this: Being stupid, being foolish, doing it even though we know better. The flowers coming up out of the ground and the leaves unfurling bright green over the dirty streets should know better too. It never works out, it always goes wrong, and nothing ever lasts. But each year the weather turns and we get the chance to be stupid.
By my fourth year in the city, my last year of college, I had gotten used to the winters but not the springs. I remember the green leaves on the walk from the subway to my apartment, and how I wanted to stand on tiptoes and bite at them like fruit. Recently, someone I know mentioned that their anniversary with their partner is in a couple weeks and somebody else said that theirs is too. I realized that a majority of the couples I know had first gotten together in these few weeks at the beginning of spring, when everything glows green and stupid.
Nobody ever fell in love by making a safe choice, by being smart, by knowing better. This season is dangerous; it makes everything seem like a good idea. Everyone gets stupid; everyone agrees to try again. I want everything spring offers because I know I deserve none of it. Every choice made in spring is a choice made despite: despite knowing better, despite being too old for this, despite how many times it’s already happened and how much I should be used to it. I see something I have seen hundreds of times, and I call it a miracle. I see the most predictable thing in the world, and I call it new.
Maybe the Easter story is a story about the ultimate himbo. Everybody loves a himbo and spring is himbo season, rising from the tomb and rolling away the stone, walking out into the sunlight big and stupid and beautiful. To a himbo, everything is new every time. We love himbos because a fool can’t hold a grudge. A fool doesn’t know better. A fool chooses to forget what has gone wrong and what has hurt them. Happiness is stupid, and so is love. But here we are in it again anyway, at the end of the month that sucks the most, in the heart of Fool’s Spring, in the miracle that makes himbos of us all, when everything blooms green.
thanks so much for reading. this is the weekly-ish public version of griefbacon. if you enjoyed this and want more, or if you’re just curious, yearly paid subscriptions are on sale for 30% until Monday. try it out, tell a friend, do both. xo