When spring comes, everything will be easier, I tell myself. When the sidewalks are again crowded with the overhang of returning leaves, I won’t dread the walk to class, heading north on State Street and navigating through the intersection that smells permanently, but also sort of deliciously, of pizza and cigarettes. When I am eating breakfast to the chorus of birdsong, I won’t be so irritable, my coffee will taste better. Maybe, I tell myself, maybe I’ll finally stop needing to drink coffee.
I wish I could say that I know by now not to fall for this plot every year. But after an especially long winter, I’m willing to believe almost anything. Spring, as a concept, is hope itself.
We’ve all read — or were forced to read by a surprisingly passionate high school teacher — “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster. Didactic, a bit patronizing, the book lends insights such as these: “For about as long as anyone’s been writing anything, the seasons have stood for the same set of meanings: spring; childhood and youth, summer; fulfillment and passion, autumn; decline, middle-age and tiredness, but also harvest, winter; old age, resentment and death.” Foster continues, “We know these patterns because they’ve been with us for so long. How long? Very long.”
I’ll lay this winter’s problem out flat: if left undisturbed, I can and will sleep into the deep afternoon. Most mornings I find it near impossible to wake up — worse yet is when I’ve had the requisite amount of hours needed (seven, it’s been said), but with a determination that I can only describe as self-preserving, I angrily switch all of the alarms off as they ring, each one its own annoyingly unique sound: Bulletin. Sencha. Marimba.
If I need to get up at, say, 7 a.m., I will set the first alarm for 6 a.m. I will then set at least 6 more, in intervals of 10 minutes, leading up to 7 a.m. It by no means ends there: I will set about five more past the top of that hour to ensure that I get up. And it’s usually the very last alarm that does it. To put it simply: If I need to get up at 7 a.m., I will get up at 7:30 a.m., and it will take at least 20 alarms.
Rollaway alarm clocks, light therapy, melatonin tabs taken at strategic hours; there are many such solutions to the problem(s) I’m describing here. Healthline says there are various reasons one could always be tired: nutrient deficiencies (of which it could be iron, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C or magnesium), stress, “certain” medical conditions, dietary imbalances, too much caffeine, inadequate hydration, obesity, “certain” medications. I’m drudging through a sea of ambiguous and thoroughly unhelpful medical knowledge. So now what?
It’s April, winter’s ugly last leg, and I’m still as exhausted as I was when this season started. The skies overhead are a dull gray, even duller, it seems, than gray ordinarily is — nothing promising ahead except lunch. I loll my head back existentially. Everybody I know and like is abroad. I can’t stand the sympathy theater that professors put on during this season: “I know, it’s that time of year, but hey — listen — I’ll let you out five minutes early. How’s that?” Oh, the gratitude I force myself to feel as I step out onto a marsh that yesterday was a snow-covered Diag.
And I don’t particularly care to hear about truth-functional language, or atomic sentences, which sound — at the outset — incredibly interesting, but are in fact incredibly boring. Everyone has to be faking it — faking that they actually understand what the professor means when he says, “If a valuation in this row is truth functional it is not necessarily true tautologically but using metalanguage like the turnstile — Euclid said this — you can get this answer. And I won’t say any more because that’s contentious.” And why is it always Commuter South that makes me nauseous? Necessary sufficient conditions, the professor would say.
The reference room in Hatcher Graduate Library smells like a doctor’s office, but I like studying there anyway. I’ll pick at my hangnails, run to wash my hands when they get clammy from typing, splay out books and notebooks like little academic props, and have a silent, meaningless competition with a stranger to see which one of us can stay longer at the library. I drive the heels of my hands into my eye sockets to think harder about how my sentences should work, if they’re doing the right things. My body aches for my bed and shuttered blinds.
The internship you won’t get. Weekend evenings spent sparring with past selves. Wanting to kick people that only ever talk out of turn in class. Relying on non-answers: That’s interesting. That’s funny. Scrambling to reheat three-day-old coffee to finish an essay for an English class with room for discovery, the professor harps.
When to-do lists are just a frame for the day that I know won’t be completed, a scaffolding deserted for other, more instantly rewarding things: an episode of “Fleabag,” a chapter or two of a Paul Auster book, a nap that I know, as soon as I slip into it, will last longer than it should. “Damn,” I say, close to laughing, when I wake up at 7 p.m. to discover that I’ve missed another lecture.
I have become uninterested in the biological reasons behind this exhaustion — even if I describe, at great length, its physical effects. I’m not interested, especially when it seems that the only remedies for excessive sleep are blanket remedies for better health: more water, less caffeine, more vitamins, less screen time. Too many solutions to explore and too little motivation to explore them.
“What is it that art saves us from?” asks Mark Doty in his seminal essay “Return to Sender.” Can art save us from ourselves? A slow, contemplative walk through the new collection in the UMMA prevents some, albeit not all, of my overthinking. Teams of blue in the abstract painting “River Mist” mimic aerial views of an old, moody sea, and I can feel the wash of a summer swim come over my body.
March arrives and my socks are wet, but I’ll admit it: I love the rain. Hard, darting, baptizing rain. March arrives and I take myself out to breakfast at Angelo’s, and even as the host digs up two menus when I go to sit down, I feel fine enough to smile and say, Actually, just one. I’ve been presented pancakes with a shelf of whipped cream, currently toppling.
It is redeeming, in fact, to pull the refuge of noise-canceling headphones over my head in a too-loud Seven Eleven and wag my head in time to “Nobody Does It Better” — a belting Carly Simon. Also, I’m high.
I sit in the theater and laugh, cry, squint at the English subtitles for the Norwegian film “The Worst Person in the World.” That the protagonist looked distantly like me is neither here nor there, but it’s somewhere. Or maybe it’s just the bangs, but I projected my story onto hers nonetheless.
In the Arboretum, I queue Phoebe Bridgers’s “Prayer in Open D” to repeat as I gravitate toward the Huron River, navigating happily through the bramble and mud. I head back to the refuge of State Street, taking financial chances on lattes. On the walk home, I pass by a house expelling thick puffs of laundry-smell — I suddenly want to bake scones and dance badly to “More Than This (Remastered/1999).”
Early one March evening, I decided on a whim to go to a free candlelight piano concert at the Michigan Union. In the middle of the ballroom sat a baby grand, votive candles crowding every inch of the riser. The pianists, all U-M School of Music students, played with their bodies, not just their hands — rising just a few inches in the seat to slam their arched, smart fingers down onto the keys.
The magic of Marvin Gaye, I think to myself once home in the kitchen. What about the fact that “Love Theme for Nata” lives in a playlist I’ve titled “Sappy?.” The live version of “Georgia” by Phoebe Bridgers, the leaning sh of her singing the word shoreline. The live version of “Meet Me at Our Spot” by WILLOW, ANXIETY and Tyler Cole. The a cappella version of “For Emma” by Bon Iver, performed on the streets of Montmartre, France. Or what about how just the first few notes of “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme” is enough to make me cry?
Art likes to catalog itself as something created for the sake of being exhibited: an installation, a painting, a photograph. But I’ll contend — certainly with no novelty — that art is also a piece of writing (“Seymour: an Introduction” comes to mind most immediately), art is the creases in your mother’s smile as you tell her that you’d really like it if she could come visit this weekend. Art is a well-constructed, surprisingly lovely grocery list. Dense, grandmother cursive on an Easter-themed notepad.
When spring comes, when tomorrow comes, when next year comes, I tell myself, I will have figured everything out. I will have entered the publishing industry, or the magazine-journalism industry, or the book-cover-design industry. I will resolve everything that currently plagues me, my hair won’t be so frizzy — I’ll have finally found the shampoo-conditioner combination that suits me. But ease and resolution cannot forever be pushed off to a future self, abdicated for that always convenient later date.
I think it was Mark Twain that said something about the importance of getting started.
Statement Deputy Editor Taylor Schott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org