The problem with winter is that the narrative is all wrong. At this very site, Katie McDonough recently wrote that “Bad Winter” has now begun, since the holidays are over but it’s still cold. But she and the culture at large are missing out on the best of this season due to a simple misinterpretation.
At the beginning of winter we are “excited” for the holidays, but that excitement is actually a mixture of sedation by Mariah Carey’s chanting and mania—the mania for consumption and for the horrible expensive dopamine-hit approval that follows. The obligations come hot on consumption’s heels: You have to travel; you have to confront your own childhood bedroom; you have to hand over objects you have bought from a store to someone else, with no guarantee you’ll get anything good in return.
These are all activities which usually we understand as bad and not good. And then, conventional wisdom goes, it’s over and you’re left with cold weather and no parties.
Consider winter differently. If the holidays are an annual event designed to glue the shredded remnants of the American nuclear family together through sheer force of convention, then of course you have to be bribed to participate in them. But after the holidays? Then, you can be alone.
During so-called “bad winter” you can spend as much time in total solitude as you like, and it is still the “correct” behavior for the season. What this means in practice is that the months of January through March are the only time of year you can be both misanthropic and live free from guilt. With the year’s greatest obligations to others behind you, the cold indoor months are a time to separate from society, to turn inwards, and to act selfishly.
How often does the world say—now, it is time to be away from other people? Never. We never hear that said out loud. The only thing that big-name annual events do (birthdays, “summer”) is demand your presence, your time, your company, your giving. It’s only in the unnamed slivers of the year that you can snatch the time you really need to understand who you are, away from the crowd.
In solitude art is made, books are read, books are written, knitting is knit, weed is smoked. The culture has never and will never give solitude its due. Without it, however, we’d go mad: It would be like living without sleep, which would be the same as being dead.
Cuffing season is its own thing, and curiously it’s related more to monastic solitude than it is to the boisterous sociability of summer. Basically, “cuffing season” is as close as you can get to being alone while also being able to have sex and hang out with somebody who likes you enough that you don’t actually have to pull off any social performance.
So, whether truly alone or in your pairs, take an evening or five to appreciate the real beauty that’s to be had in “bad winter,” which I propose that we call “good winter” from now on. This time of year is like the hour you manage to sneak off and spend in a darkened room during a party full of shrill voices. It’s the walk through the woods away from your family on the camping trip, before the helicopter finds you. It’s the caught breath, the rested mind. Good winter is restorative, and finally it’s here.
Jo Livingstone is a writer in New York.