I Do Not Control The Seasons
on becoming more plant-like
I find myself obsessing over quilt-making videos on Youtube lately, feeling a weirdly strong urge to make a colorful throw. I guess it started when I cut lantern fly wings out of fabric to make my Halloween costume. I forgot how good it felt to thread a needle.
The back and forth meditation of hand-stitching opened a window into my teenage bedroom, where I spent hours cutting up and altering old thrifted t-shirts. I had a vision of that brief dabble in hand embroidery a few years ago, thought about the sewing machine I bought spontaneously and used twice. It’s been sitting on a shelf ever since.
This quilting thing is just another one of your whims, self-doubt whispers. You never finish anything.
On the small scale of the weekly calendar, perhaps this is true. But if I float above the grid of hours, days, and weeks to look at my life on the scale of decades, I see a different pattern. I see seasons.
Seasons are long, and they cycle. They weave through our lives with no clear beginning and end, just a slow fade in and out. Every season teaches us something, building on the last. Over time and through cycles, we accrete.
As a Floridian, I didn’t grow up with seasons. We like to joke that there are only two: hot and wet. Observing the cycle of a four-season year in the Northeast is a new and fascinating experience for me, one that is teaching me what it means to grow and to rest.
Through gardening, I am coming to understand the limits of my control. The produce section has created the illusion that every fruit and vegetable is available all the time. A season-less, refrigerated world. But when you grow them yourself, you realize quickly that this is nothing more than an elaborate lie made possible by machinery and gasoline.
You can’t grow lettuces in the height of summer, and squash will not tolerate a frost. But the market forces these plants to grow anyway, and we wonder why our soil turns to dust.
Plants do not control the seasons, they only adapt to them. Why do I think the seasons of my creativity are any different? Have you ever tried to force an idea for a deadline? It’s like wringing water from granite.
In her recent book on creativity, Big Magic, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert explains how she has come to think of ideas as beings that visit her, similar to how the Romans conceptualized Genius. It wasn’t something inside a person. Rather, Genius was a guardian figure that would visit sometimes, but only if you were diligently practicing your art.
This externalizes the pressure — you don’t have ideas, you channel them through practice. Your body is a vessel for the spirit of creation. This also means you can’t control when a good idea strikes, you can only be ready by setting a place for Genius at your table every day. Practice is not perfect — it is placemaking, stage-setting, soil-building.
Maybe this sounds a bit far-out to you, my dear practical reader. But creativity is a profoundly spiritual, intuitive process for me. Trying to force it into a to-do list or a set of discretely timed parameters has only ever made the process worse. Perhaps this is why so many creative people have trouble adhering to clock time. Our bodies do not buy the lie of a season-less world.
On the internet, we experience the illusion of global capitalism’s machine time — the always-on, 24/7 schedule. Jonathan Crary writes:
24/7 is a time of indifference, against which the fragility of human life is increasingly inadequate and within which sleep has no necessity or inevitability. In relation to labor, it renders plausible, even normal, the idea of working without pause, without limits.
The absurdity of this season-less world is illuminated by the Twitter account @smallseasonsbot, which is programmed to tweet regular reminders of sekki, 24 small seasons followed by farmers in Japan and China before the advent of the Gregorian calendar.
Following these small seasons rely on what many have called the art of noticing — observing the natural world closely in order to learn from it. This is impossible in the cerebral void of the internet, so it’s reduced to automatic tweets about abstract freezes the user can neither see nor feel. These reminders are lost in a see of more abstract thoughts, scrolling by in a 24/7 feed that never, ever changes.
Only machines can live like this.
In truth, even our 7-day week is an abstraction that separates us from the seasons. Historically, it was imposed on the working class in Europe during the Industrial Revolution and on colonized peoples across the world, because the Puritans and the merchant classequated it with morality, productivity, and civilization itself.
Historian Giordano Nanni calls the 7-day week “a ritual which silently affirms and reactualises the underlying master narrative of Judeo-Christian mythology…whilst synchronising the rhythms of capital and labor.”
Resistance to this view of time was seen not as a choice, Nanni explains, but as an evidence of pathology, whether by race science or the construction of madness. Non-adherents to the 7-day week were not acting out of agency, but some biological defect. (They were timeblind, if you will.)
Separation from nature was not a side effect of the 7-day week, it was the entire point. Nanni writes:
…the notion of the ‘savage’ was constructed partly upon the belief that to be ‘human’ entailed separating man’s rituals and routines from the rhythms and cycles of nature.
Over the centuries, the abstract logic of clock time has crept into every aspect of our lives — even the way we think about our emotions and our health. In the book that finally made this Floridian understand the value of winter, Katherine May writes:
We like to imagine that it’s possible for life to be one eternal summer and that we have uniquely failed to achieve that for ourselves. We dream of an equatorial habitat, forever close to the sun, an endless, unvarying high season. But life’s not like that. Emotionally, we’re prone to stifling summers and low, dark winters, to sudden drops in temperature, to light and shade.
Humans, like all life on a tilted planet that spins around a burning star, were born of a cosmic cycle far beyond our control. Like the emotional storms that blow into my life unannounced, there are also fallow periods in my creativity, starts and stops in the flow of ideas and the development of certain skills.
I was formally trained in photography, spent years doing it for money, and used my camera to understand the world around me for most of my young life. Photography is the creative language I feel most fluent in, but I stopped reaching for a camera a few years ago. I’ve tried switching back to 35mm film or using different kinds of cameras, but as much as I miss the medium, I can’t force the season to come back around.
Instead, I find myself reaching for other mediums — words, microphones, fabric and a sewing machine. I do not control these seasons of creativity, just as I do not control the cycles of my body or the seasons of the planet I am lucky to briefly exist on.
The other day I was listening to an episode of Hidden Brain on “taking control of your time”. The host was interviewing a researcher about how we might deal with time stress and find more time in our lives. She claimed to have a “scientific” way of dealing with the problem of time scarcity, suggesting that we should track our activities every hour of every day, assign each one with a happiness score, and quit “spending time” on the activities which had the lowest scores.
I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous this sounded — the answer to a stress caused by our attempts to quantify and control time like a monetary resource is to try even harder?
I’d rather let go and stop counting; make peace with my place in a vast, interconnected ecosystem that is infinitely bigger than me. I do not control the seasons. Like the plants in my garden, I follow them.
Much credit goes to my dear friend and creative collaborator Marta Rose here — her concept of Spiral Time has been tremendously influential on my thinking.
There was a lot of overlap; Nanni explains that the idea of using a centralized device to count the hours in the day can be traced back to European Christian monasteries of the sixth century, where a bell was used to mark hourly prayer time. Fast forward to the rise of mercantilism in the 1300s, when markets required centralized time to coordinate monetary transactions, and the church bell morphed into the town square clock. In following centuries, this would become the factory bell and the school bell.
The more I read about this history the more I hate this term!! You can’t be biologically blind to a cultural fiction. Your bodymind isn’t defective, it’s in rebellion.