Roughshod Pt. 3: Winter
Meditations on Imagination, Time, and One Small Park in North Texas
I didn’t visit the park much in winter. Anyone who tells you that it doesn’t get cold in Texas has never had to ride a 150cc scooter at fifty miles per hour when it’s almost freezing. Before break, I drove to classes wearing two coats and three layers of gloves with my scarf stuffed up in my visor to save my eyes from the windburn. After that, it was a race to see if I could get to school before the cold got through my clothing. Most days I got in with my fingers white up to the knuckle. On good days, my roommate would drive me in in her old, Canadian-plated Buick so that I only had to shuffle from car to building.
So, I didn’t go out. I read The Bell Jar while the pipes froze and Texas’ poorly protected electric grid played chicken with climate change.
In a series of bad decisions, reading Sylvia Plath’s masterwork while dealing with an anxious personality that has a tendency toward insomnia and depression probably ranked on the lower end. I became convinced that, like Plath’s character, I would just stop sleeping. It didn’t help that I ran out of Ambien halfway through winter break. I remember trying to nap on my parent’s couch while the dance of the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamocortical loop played out again and again in the corridors of my brain. Intrusive thoughts nudged me awake every time I got drowsy.
What would I have seen if I had gone to arbor hills? Mud and barren trees, more than likely, but what else? A knot of rattlesnakes keeping each other warm until the ground thawed? Probably not, but the crux is that I’ll never know.
Relationships are just as much about presence as they are about absence. When I went home for break, I tried to get in touch with my former lover, but she told me she wouldn’t see me. She was right to do so. But her absence took up residence in the space next to me in the bed. It cuddled close to me as I went to sleep.
Sometimes it feels like it’s better not to hope because hope contains a seed of disappointment. If imagination never leads to anything, why have it? If there’s nothing in the park, why go?
If you go, you’ll be disappointed. But if you don’t, you’ll never be certain. I’ve learned since then it’s better to act than let yourself linger on in limbo, even if the world you find is barren. The alternative means letting your mind fill in the empty spaces with your worst fears.
This is the downside of imagination. Just as much as it can let you envision a better future it can close you off from taking a chance at it. The fewer chances you take, the more closed off you become.
Plath writes of her character’s confinement and mental illness as a glass jar constructed to form vacuums. Inside the bell jar, her character slowly loses her life as depression sucks the oxygen from her lungs. But you can have bell jars inside you, too. They are the hundred tiny holes, the might-have-bens that hold their shape, but have no mass of their own.
Avoid them, if you can. You can only fill them with darkness. Their only substance is night.
A former academic with a background in theater, art, and critical theory, I examine society through a variety of lenses. I write to enlighten, but I am convinced that good writing is also good thinking, and through the process, I discover more than I set out to tell. I write about everything from gaming, to art theory, to environmental justice.