The Quiet Pressures of Spring
It’s the time of year I feel the most alone.
It’s the time of year when stores begin filling with pastels and flip flops, and people wear shorts and tank tops under gray skies because they can’t stand another day in boots. It’s the time of year when small talk begins in elevators about the about the burgeoning warm climate and long sunny days. It’s time of year when the endless social media posts begin about “where is spring!!!” and the desire for endless beach days.
It’s the time of year when people begin asking me what my vacation plans are, and if we can eat lunch outside. It’s the time of year when people start asking me why I still have a sweater on, or why I’ve never been to the Caribbean or Mexico or on a cruise. It’s the time of year when people start rolling their eyes when I tell them I don’t own sandals. It’s the time of year when I start to sweat all the time and feel mortified about it.
It’s the time of year that society has collectively decided are the “good times,” where we get to relax, where we live our “best lives,” and when we fall in love. It is, of course, everyone’s favorite time, Spring (and Summer). But for me, that universal narrative of spring and summer has never fit with the reality of my experience. And that’s been my truth since my early days.
I would never categorize myself as having a bad childhood. As I approach middle age with a better understanding the complexities of adulthood, I know my family did the best they could with what they had. But we were melancholy during our years together, and I was terribly and painfully anxious from the start. For my family, sunlight was the source of burns and illness, and the community pool a place where I slipped and shattered my arm with such intensity that a life guard threw up at the sight of me running towards her for help. Flowers meant allergies and rashes, and late evening neighborhood play was an opportunity to fall or run out in front a car that may not see us in the dusk light.
Growing up in a military family, spring and summer meant moving and trying to make new friends rather than family vacations at a beach house with a father playing chef at a large sparkling silver grill. I adapted to this life. I craved indoor play and happily entertained myself with dolls and art and a robust crew of imaginary friends.
The fear of warm days became real as I got older. As a high school student at an elite all girls institution, I dreaded the spring, which meant uniform kilts without tights. Every girl around me seemed to have smooth tan unmarked skin, and perfectly shaped legs. I spent hours in the mirror trying to rub creams into my almost translucent skin to hide the early signs of varicose veins. People often commented on my “sturdy ankles,” so I combed magazines trying to find tips for making them less noticeable. My Monday mornings were filled by eavesdropping on stories of bikini clad beach weekends with students from the boys school down the street.
It was then that I decided to make cold weather my friend and “cool,” and embraced the autumn and winter months as “my time.” Layers could be worn without judgement, and my desire to be safely inside drawing (often alone) seemed like the logical choice to others during the winter weather. As I got older, it even became fun. I would have endless hot cups of coffee and slices of pie, find cozy nooks in which to read with a cat on my lap...all while wrapped in the safety of scarves and thick socks that kept pale skin cankles from being a discussion point. But I would still often sit and imagine what my life would be like if I was a “spring and summer person.” Somehow, I equated my lack of summer attitude as the reason for the lack of a normal high school life-a gang of friends, a boyfriend, smooth legs in miniskirts, and ultimately, endless happiness and fun. After all, wasn't it the time of the year that EVERYONE is happy? What was wrong with me?
I write this today not as a curmudgeon. I love that people enjoy themselves in the glow of the sun and dream of vacations along turquoise waters-these are wonderful things! The spring season is such a miraculous and beautiful transition of living things, and the rebirth of nature is truly awe inspiring and humbling.
Rather, I write this as a reflection and a plea for those of us that feel a bit like outcasts during his time of year to instead stand firm in our own joy. Our best days can be ANY days, and we don’t have feel down because spring flowers and sandy beaches never instantly cured our anxieties or suddenly gave us incredible full social lives.
In a time when I feel like we are being constantly bombarded with hyper-positivity messages of “no bad days” or the idea that all will be well once the sun comes out, I hope all of us can just be happy with whatever makes us individually happy. Let’s not like excessive marketing and social media make that decision for us. Isn’t that what “living your best life” really means?
Jenny Brown is visual artist living and working in Providence, Rhode Island, whose primary mediums are drawing, collage, and works on paper. Her work brings to life a mythical world of sea creatures and celestial beings, realized through her love of paper ephemera.
Jenny studied art at Bennington College and received her MFA from School of Visual Arts in New York in 2003. Her work can be found at Galatea Fine Art in Boston throughout the month of April as part of the group show “Delicacy,” and at Anthropologie in Cranston, RI on April 22nd as part of the shop’s Spring Pop Up Event.