The Seasons

Jenna Orkin

When I look back, what looms largest and goes on for the longest time is not the recent past but the beginning. The rest recedes, foreshortened as time accelerates to the vanishing point of now.

In the beginning, things were permanent. From first to fourth grade was an infinite unity, an eternal moment. When winter settled in there was no memory of the summer before nor thought of the one to come. The seasons followed in a Yin-Yang cycle of tights to short socks and back.

In October began tights season. This lasted until April when my mother packed our tights along with the winter coats, woollen skirts and sweaters, in white boxes to be stored at the top of the closet. Down came the sumer wardrobe: short socks which were folded over or rolled down; sunsuits til I was four; gingham shorts sets in pink, blue or brown after that. I unfolded these outfits, surveying them with suprised pleasure, as with friends one only sees at camp.

Spring was leaves and sunlight; winter, a string of Christmas lights like stars. But the cycle itself would never change.

When I was ten my father got a job with a theatrical agency that had far-flung offices; we moved to London. All the seasons were rain and like everyone else who was under thirteen, I wore knee socks for most of the year. Once there were snowflakes two days before summer.

We lived in a block of 'flats' that encircled a large, assymmetrical garden. I grew up in that garden, if I grew up at all. In its dark, moist dugout behind the hedge, those in the vanguard of puberty revealed their burgeoning bodies which were fascinating in their pink bulges and folds. A boy with a teenage sister brought word to the rest of us about the changes that lay ahead.

The garden had its own cycle and rhythm: In winter it was wood under a woolly grey sky; in summer, green and blue. But I, uprooted and transplanted, had acquired the third dimension of a past: I realized that the egg came before the chicken. What had laid the egg was not another chicken but a pre-chicken type of creature in the evolutionary scheme.

The endless cycle of time broke; its two dimensions were an illusion. Looked at in three dimensions, it was a spiral going somewhere.

When I was fourteen we moved back to New York. For the first time, I went to a private school. Gone were the days of bright summer clothes and colorful winter woollens. Year round my schoolmates and I wore a uniform the color of seaweed with an aqua shirt. We turned our backs on the outside world. What lay before us were books, fat ones containing hundreds of onionskin pages with inches of footnote debris at the bottom.

Friendship was not encouraged at this school for fear it would interfere with study. Looking 'round in alarm at the past I saw that the garden gate, real and metaphorical, had locked behind me. There was no going back.

From now on, the seasons were marked by exams, two sets of midterms, two sets of finals. No matter what the phase of the year, always somewhere in my mind was Exam week, a stretch of Judgment Days when I would be called to account for the previous two months. I saw all activities in terms of their payoff at exam time. Would I learn something from them? Were they diversions necessary for my sanity and hence, my ability to perform on the exams?

Walking alone in the park on weekends, or by the river when insomnia sent me to school at sunrise, I became aware of transience. The brown leaves of autumn began to fall in August and in February there were signs of spring. The cycle, transformed in England, became more complicated.

What sustained me during those years were the piano lessons I took outside of school. My teacher, Miss Caine, imbued me with hope as Pygmalion breathed life into Galatea. Music was an island of love in a vast, ominous sea. As no one else in my class at school was interested in it, music became my island by default.

In college I continued to keep the world at arm's length, staying on the island of music where Beethoven was the mountain range; Bach, the city, Schumann the ocean, Chopin, the gardens. But I knew that this sojourn was transient and worried about how I would fit into the world when time, hurtling forth, dropped me there at graduation.

I wanted to teach Music Theory. I'd found hidden unity in Bach that I wanted to show anyone who would listen. But for that, you needed a Ph.D. While gathering the resolve to pursue one, after college I trained for a job, which everyone who heard about it professed to envy, supervising music at a soap opera.

The production half of the studio was a dark, sealed room smelling of old, cold cigarette smoke. There were no musicians to supervise, nor any instruments. The music came off tapes catalogued in the music library as neutral, romantic or light. I was ashamed of the job, antsy spending time on something that required so little thought. I became especially annoyed when the training went on for three months and Big Jack, the man I was supposed to replace when he retired, showed no sign of leaving.

The seasons went underground. Or rather, I did. Each day at five o'clock, I walked my boss to his car in the garage across the street. Once the clocks moved back, it was dark when we left the studio. The garage depressed me and the smell made me sick. The future seemed like a tunnel without light at the end. Five months later I quit, after more training than is lavished on an astronaut.

The following year I dreaded autumn.

Each year after that the dread appeared earlier. First it appeared in June when the days began to get shorter. Then it appeared in December as soon as they started to get longer again. This lasted until I read about light deprivation depression. Finding that other people suffered it too, I didn't get it again. By that time I was teaching Music History at Juilliard - a dream job although the meager pay necessitated moving back with my mother. I taught fledgling pianists, singers, composers. I lunched with established pianists, singers, composers. After work I took the bus home through the park at Sixty-fifth street. The lights at Tavern on the Green outlined the bare-branched trees beneath which stood deer sculpted from ice. I wondered if the late December date had been chosen to celebrate Christ's birthday in order to get us through the darkest month. Once again, winter was a string of Christmas lights like stars.

As adulthood continued, the seasons came in more intense and complex currents. In summer the days got hotter on schedule but they also got shorter as in winter. By August the street was strewn with dry brown leaves which strictly speaking, shouldn't have happened til November. And there was a silence in the city as though we were in the eye of the storm of time. I had transient jobs that I couldn't wait for an excuse to leave: secretarial, paralegal... The desire for a child gestated in me but prospective fathers came and went, elusive as shadows. I dreamed, also, of adult love. That dream was old. It had been born the first day of first grade when I fell under the spell of Miss Savoy, our sweet, clear-voiced teacher in the so-feminine full skirt of 1962. At twenty-eight, I had flashes of oneness during deep sex but they later proved to have come from my imagination which is to say, from hope.

Each season contained the seeds of the next, of the same season the next year and finally of all future seasons. Anticipation took over awareness of the present and I saw transience everywhere: In a gurgling baby I saw the sulking hulk of the adolescent. In a sparkling first meeting I saw through to the banal middle of the relationship and its ugly end. I looked ahead not one season but five, thence straight to the end of my life. Time was pulling us all towards the ultimate deadline like a vortex towards the center. I thought: Life is a moment; then comes an eternity of memory. Surely there's more to it than that.

-----------------
Forwarded Message:
Subj: Fwd: seasons
Date: 11/27/2004 11:37:39 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Jennakilt
To: Jennakilt



-----------------
Forwarded Message:
Subj: seasons
Date: 11/27/2004 10:52:25 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Jennakilt
To: Jennakilt



-----------------
Forwarded Message:
Subj: submission (essay)
Date: 11/27/2004 10:34:39 PM Eastern Standard Time
From: Jennakilt
To: constant.force@netaccess.co.nz, editor@chronicle.com



Dear Editors:

Please consider the following essay for publication. I have had work published in the New York Times, the national Indian newspaper, the Hindu and the political newsletter, Counterpunch.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Jenna Orkin
New York City
718-246-1577

The Seasons

When I look back, what looms largest and goes on for the longest time is not the recent past but the beginning. The rest recedes, foreshortened as time accelerates to the vanishing point of now.

In the beginning, things were permanent. From first to fourth grade was an infinite unity, an eternal moment. When winter settled in there was no memory of the summer before nor thought of the one to come. The seasons followed in a Yin-Yang cycle of tights to short socks and back.

In October began tights season. This lasted until April when my mother packed our tights along with the winter coats, woollen skirts and sweaters, in white boxes to be stored at the top of the closet. Down came the sumer wardrobe: short socks which were folded over or rolled down; sunsuits til I was four; gingham shorts sets in pink, blue or brown after that. I unfolded these outfits, surveying them with suprised pleasure, as with friends one only sees at camp.

Spring was leaves and sunlight; winter, a string of Christmas lights like stars. But the cycle itself would never change.

When I was ten my father got a job with a theatrical agency that had far-flung offices; we moved to London. All the seasons were rain and like everyone else who was under thirteen, I wore knee socks for most of the year. Once there were snowflakes two days before summer.

We lived in a block of 'flats' that encircled a large, assymmetrical garden. I grew up in that garden, if I grew up at all. In its dark, moist dugout behind the hedge, those in the vanguard of puberty revealed their burgeoning bodies which were fascinating in their pink bulges and folds. A boy with a teenage sister brought word to the rest of us about the changes that lay ahead.

The garden had its own cycle and rhythm: In winter it was wood under a woolly grey sky; in summer, green and blue. But I, uprooted and transplanted, had acquired the third dimension of a past: I realized that the egg came before the chicken. What had laid the egg was not another chicken but a pre-chicken type of creature in the evolutionary scheme.

The endless cycle of time broke; its two dimensions were an illusion. Looked at in three dimensions, it was a spiral going somewhere.

When I was fourteen we moved back to New York. For the first time, I went to a private school. Gone were the days of bright summer clothes and colorful winter woollens. Year round my schoolmates and I wore a uniform the color of seaweed with an aqua shirt. We turned our backs on the outside world. What lay before us were books, fat ones containing hundreds of onionskin pages with inches of footnote debris at the bottom.

Friendship was not encouraged at this school for fear it would interfere with study. Looking 'round in alarm at the past I saw that the garden gate, real and metaphorical, had locked behind me. There was no going back.

From now on, the seasons were marked by exams, two sets of midterms, two sets of finals. No matter what the phase of the year, always somewhere in my mind was Exam week, a stretch of Judgment Days when I would be called to account for the previous two months. I saw all activities in terms of their payoff at exam time. Would I learn something from them? Were they diversions necessary for my sanity and hence, my ability to perform on the exams?

Walking alone in the park on weekends, or by the river when insomnia sent me to school at sunrise, I became aware of transience. The brown leaves of autumn began to fall in August and in February there were signs of spring. The cycle, transformed in England, became more complicated.

What sustained me during those years were the piano lessons I took outside of school. My teacher, Miss Caine, imbued me with hope as Pygmalion breathed life into Galatea. Music was an island of love in a vast, ominous sea. As no one else in my class at school was interested in it, music became my island by default.

In college I continued to keep the world at arm's length, staying on the island of music where Beethoven was the mountain range; Bach, the city, Schumann the ocean, Chopin, the gardens. But I knew that this sojourn was transient and worried about how I would fit into the world when time, hurtling forth, dropped me there at graduation.

I wanted to teach Music Theory. I'd found hidden unity in Bach that I wanted to show anyone who would listen. But for that, you needed a Ph.D. While gathering the resolve to pursue one, after college I trained for a job, which everyone who heard about it professed to envy, supervising music at a soap opera.

The production half of the studio was a dark, sealed room smelling of old, cold cigarette smoke. There were no musicians to supervise, nor any instruments. The music came off tapes catalogued in the music library as neutral, romantic or light. I was ashamed of the job, antsy spending time on something that required so little thought. I became especially annoyed when the training went on for three months and Big Jack, the man I was supposed to replace when he retired, showed no sign of leaving.

The seasons went underground. Or rather, I did. Each day at five o'clock, I walked my boss to his car in the garage across the street. Once the clocks moved back, it was dark when we left the studio. The garage depressed me and the smell made me sick. The future seemed like a tunnel without light at the end. Five months later I quit, after more training than is lavished on an astronaut.

The following year I dreaded autumn.

Each year after that the dread appeared earlier. First it appeared in June when the days began to get shorter. Then it appeared in December as soon as they started to get longer again. This lasted until I read about light deprivation depression. Finding that other people suffered it too, I didn't get it again. By that time I was teaching Music History at Juilliard - a dream job although the meager pay necessitated moving back with my mother. I taught fledgling pianists, singers, composers. I lunched with established pianists, singers, composers. After work I took the bus home through the park at Sixty-fifth street. The lights at Tavern on the Green outlined the bare-branched trees beneath which stood deer sculpted from ice. I wondered if the late December date had been chosen to celebrate Christ's birthday in order to get us through the darkest month. Once again, winter was a string of Christmas lights like stars.

As adulthood continued, the seasons came in more intense and complex currents. In summer the days got hotter on schedule but they also got shorter as in winter. By August the street was strewn with dry brown leaves which strictly speaking, shouldn't have happened til November. And there was a silence in the city as though we were in the eye of the storm of time. I had transient jobs that I couldn't wait for an excuse to leave: secretarial, paralegal... The desire for a child gestated in me but prospective fathers came and went, elusive as shadows. I dreamed, also, of adult love. That dream was old. It had been born the first day of first grade when I fell under the spell of Miss Savoy, our sweet, clear-voiced teacher in the so-feminine full skirt of 1962. At twenty-eight, I had flashes of oneness during deep sex but they later proved to have come from my imagination which is to say, from hope.

Each season contained the seeds of the next, of the same season the next year and finally of all future seasons. Anticipation took over awareness of the present and I saw transience everywhere: In a gurgling baby I saw the sulking hulk of the adolescent. In a sparkling first meeting I saw through to the banal middle of the relationship and its ugly end. I looked ahead not one season but five, thence straight to the end of my life. Time was pulling us all towards the ultimate deadline like a vortex towards the center. I thought: Life is a moment; then comes an eternity of memory. Surely there's more to it than that.