The Beautiful Poem That Lifted My Spirits On A Cold Winter Day

What I've come to realize is that while I've certainly been sad in LA, NY actually MAKES me sad.
Publish date:
February 3, 2016
sadness, winter, poetry, weather

I hate cold winter weather with every element of my frostbitten soul. As a native New Yorker who made her first move to LA in 2000 and was as surprised as anyone to find that I loved it there, I’ve been navigating that preference, which some try to warp into my secret shame, for a decade and a half already.

For reasons of work and life, I’ve moved back and forth between New York and LA more times than most people will relocate from anywhere to anywhere in their entire lives, and I presently find myself back in New York, and not entirely thrilled about it. We recently had a record-breaking blizzard here, but I was well over old man winter’s shenanigans long before the first snowflake fell.

There are myriad geographical and lifestyle differences between NY and LA, but speaking strictly of climate, I’m weary of minimizing my disdain and discomfort with this weather. I had a personal revelation recently that I’m someone for whom absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Whether speaking of a person or a season, if you bring me joy, I don’t need much time apart to appreciate our time together.

I don’t take it for granted that I grew up with the seasons of the Northeast US, so I can understand intellectually if people are curious about snow, perhaps never having seen it, or if they enjoy cold winters because they grew up without them—grass being greener and all that.

I never need to see snow again as long as I live, and the “72 and sunny” norm of LA is not something I can imagine ever tiring of. Joy can be expressed and experienced in unlimited ways, and it can change and grow and redouble exponentially, so while I get that some people experience happiness most strenuously when it returns after an absence, I do not.

When spring finally comes after a New York winter, I’m not suddenly breaking into “Brand New Day” from The Wiz. I’m generally war-torn and beaten down, having exhausted my energies by simply getting through the winter months. (This is also why a “break” in a relationship doesn’t work for me—if ending it is on the table, every moment apart is a moment I’m learning to live without you, so if/when we reunite, something will have been diminished. But that’s a whole other story.)

Back to the weather, I usually focus on volunteering/donating/trying to help those less fortunate—the horror of homelessness at any temperature is unspeakable in a NY winter. Indeed, lives were lost during the blizzard. How can I complain?

Well, I can maintain perspective but also make room for some personal truths as well. After many years and many many moves, I'm finally allowing myself to fully feel this thing I've been saying for years; I don't do well in cold weather and I prefer warmth and sunshine. Full stop.

For example, I don't have the greatest circulation and when I come inside from even a brief walk and take off my two pairs of gloves, turn on the faucet with my elbow because my hands are numb, and hold them under running hot water to restore sensation, my primary thoughts have usually been at least I have an indoors to come home least I have hot water... at least I have gloves; they don't work perfectly but things could be worse… etc., etc., etc.

Interesting that I'm the first to clap back when others offer the hollow "consolation" that things could always be worse, yet here I am saying it to myself with impunity.

This may seem to some of you like much ado over a zip code, but what I call the “reanimation” process of warming my hands physically hurts so much it makes me want to cry. I get anxious just thinking about going outside. Nothing about winter weather or its accoutrements delights me in any way, and specifically being in NY drags my spirit down.

I've been unhappy in LA. I've been as depressed as I've ever been at different points on both coasts, because moods don't adhere to arbitrary geographic boundaries. But what I've come to realize is that while I've certainly been sad in LA, NY actually makes me sad.

But we're not here for a bitchfest. We're here to celebrate poetry and the beauty of completely disagreeing with someone in perfect, stunning discord.

It’s a quietly oppressive burden to dislike where you live, and I’m in search of anything that eases it as I work on adjusting my address or my attitude about it. The poem "I'm Going Back to Minnesota Where Sadness Makes Sense" slid into my field of vision as I perused social media on a recent chilly morning. I didn't exactly roll my eyes at the title, but let's just say I didn't not roll them either. Still, the text there in full as a screenshot, being shared by an impeccable source, writer Saeed Jones, and I devoured it an instant.

I was so moved. Here was a stance I've heard a thousand times before, being expressed in a way that felt brand new. It spoke to me in a way that all of the other people who’ve described LA’s sunshine as mercilessly unyielding, or said they had their depression exacerbated by what felt like an insistent and unrelentingly oppositional environment, either could not or did not.

It communicated an ideology that is the polar opposite of mine, and it made me truly feel that opposing stance even as it further cemented my own. In this age of noisy internet arguments, social media debates, and trolling, I love the quiet truth of an opposing opinion (on something it’s appropriate to have an opinion on, of course, not characteristics of one’s humanity or anything).

When a differing position is expressed articulately, I feel a sense of peace. There is no debate, no argument, even little comment but to say thank you. In this case, I reached out to the award-winning and widely published poet, Danez Smith, to say that thank you directly.

Danez' words and thoughts and emotions exist in the world without need of my understanding, opinion, praise, or dissent. Even his publication of them in a professional capacity is not inherently a request for comment. However, I felt compelled to express my gratitude for this piece of writing that yanked me out of my malaise and gave me such a compelling view of The Other Side.

Hesitant to take a poem 100% literally, I asked Danez via e-mail about his inspiration, and he confirmed that this one is in fact based on experience and not a figurative piece of fiction:

“The poem is pretty literal--I was living is California for a little bit and then had to get back to Minnesota when I could. I had a good time with the year I spent in Cali, but I got to a point in my life where I needed to be near home and also someplace that made sense to my mind. Cali, at least Southern Cali and the Bay, really, any warm weather place, feel like a place out of time to me. I need the seasons to help me make sense of time, and winter to validate my hermit sadness. I’m just Midwestern I think.”

I can't relate to that at all. Not one iota. And yet, I get it. I finally get it, after years of finding myself in situations where people battle over this topic as though we're rival rappers defending our turf in a time gone by when rap beef meant more than scathing memes and a hashtag.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough that Danez (or anyone) doesn’t need me to “get” their feelings or their work for them to be valid and matter in the world, but I enjoyed really seeing the other side and feeling it renew my own position.

Maybe a part of me wasn’t fully buying the arguments I’d heard previously? Or maybe I got increasingly annoyed and frustrated with them because the truth is that when we’re secure in what we love, and we love it for what it is as opposed to what it isn’t, there’s no need to argue at all.

Best of all, stumbling upon this poem led me down a happy rabbit hole of contemporary poetry, like “Dinosaurs in the Hood,” which Danez says is one of his favorite poems to perform. When I asked if he had a favorite of his own, he said not really, adding, “I don’t read my own work after it is done being a draft and becomes a poem.” He says he enjoys performing “Dinosaurs in the Hood” because, “I know whenever I read it I can connect with someone in the audience and we can share a good laugh or a good tear together, plus I get to talk about dinosaurs and grandmas.”

When asked about his favorite poets, Danez replied, “Too many favorite poems to name, but in the current moment and for the last year it’s been “ALL THEY WANT IS MY MONEY MY PUSSY MY BLOOD” by Morgan Parker. Her poems make my body want to move 8 different ways at once and this one makes me ways to split into 10 different Danezes so we can have a party and a serious talk about America.”

Such poetry, even in an e-mail. Danez concluded by saying that he hopes people “continue to discover the shelter in a poem,” which is exactly what I did.

And I felt a little less cold that day.