As a writer whose work is regularly interrupted by piddly things like my job, I leave a lot of books and stories unfinished, sometimes for months or even years at a time. When I come back to a piece to start working on it again, it’s often hard to remember where I left off. But it’s not just the cobwebs that have grown over the words that obscure my vision. Sometimes even brushing away the dust and rereading the beginning aren’t enough to remind me where I was headed. I’ve simply lost the plot. Other times, I do remember where I was going, but the destination no longer makes sense.
When this happens, I have to sit back and ask myself, “Well, where do I want to go from here?”
The question is both freeing and terrifying. Is it really up to me? I can decide? Well, of course! It was up to me all along. I’m the writer. The story is mine to tell. But that doesn’t change the fact that deviating from a set path—even if I’m the one who mapped it in the first place—feels wrong.
Living in the spring of 2021 feels a little like coming back to an unfinished story long after putting it in a drawer. After more than a year of staying home and distancing from others, of not traveling and not eating in restaurants, my loved ones and I are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and ready to resume a somewhat normal life. But that’s proving to be harder than I anticipated.
I think of the things we used to do: tasting each other’s drinks at happy hour, blowing the candles out on birthday cakes, letting 130 teenagers flow in and out of my classroom every day without once sanitizing hands or wiping off desks. Can I really go back to doing these things? Do I want to? I’m having trouble finding the plot, and when I do, I’m not sure I want to keep going in the direction I was headed before.
The coronavirus has already been a horror story and a love story, a story of sacrifice and of survival. The tale is not over yet, and I worry there may yet be unexpected twists on the way. As we venture back into our lives—safely, carefully—let us rewrite the future and create a new, happier ending.
That probably surprises you, since I’m a teacher. I do love the freedom and relaxation of summer, and I definitely look forward to the break from work. But the temperature? I am completely over Texas summer heat.
In Austin, the high temps start averaging in the 90s in June. The rain tapers off and the highs steadily climb until, by mid-July, we’re regularly hitting 100 degrees. We average about 20-30 triple digit days a year, unless we have a bad year like 2011 when we hit 100 a total of 90 times. That is not a typo. We had 90 days of sweltering heat, and many of those were well over 100. That was the year we got our puppy, Uno. We had him three months before he saw rain. That was also the year we got a new fence installed in the backyard. It took twice as long as expected because the workers kept having to leave around 3pm for their own safety. The thermometer was reaching 110, 111, 112 degrees every afternoon. It was brutal.
Of course, Texas doesn’t have a monopoly on hot weather. Even in places like New York and Montana, they’ll see temperatures in the nineties during the summer. Also, when I complain about the Texas heat, people like to point out that at least people here have air conditioning everywhere. That’s true, and I’m eternally grateful for it.
Here’s the first problem: I like to be outside. Sitting inside in the AC is not the same thing as sitting outside in a fresh breeze. During the most stifling weeks of the year, even sitting in the shade is too much for me. My body just doesn’t handle the heat like it used to, and I sometimes feel physically ill from being out on Austin afternoons, regardless of shade and hydration. If I could escape it at all, ever, things would be different. But the other (and much larger) problem is this: THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
I’m a natural night owl. Before I was married, I’d often revert to vampire hours for a couple of weeks at the start of summer, but even that isn’t enough of a relief because in Austin, from about mid-July to mid-September, it NEVER COOLS DOWN. In the summer, Hubby and I walk the dog around 10pm because the pup doesn’t like the heat either, and that’s when the temperature will have finally dropped below 95. I could deal with the 110-degree heat during the day if I knew it would be in the 70’s by dawn. But it won’t. It’s the LOWS that kill my soul in the summer. 82, 84, 86… these are temperatures that will greet you if you go outside at 3am in August. That’s just ridiculous.
[Right now, you’re probably thinking, Did I read the title wrong? I thought this post was supposed to be about spring? It is. Sorry. Bear with me. I’m getting there. I didn’t plan on harping on hellish Texas summers for quite this long, but I obviously have a lot of feelings about them. Moving on.]
As much as I love having a couple of months off from teaching every year, I’ve wished for a long time that those months didn’t occur during the summer. If all I’m going to do is stay in the air conditioning anyway, I might as well do it in my classroom. Instead, why not let us out when it’s nice outside?
As bad as Austin summers are, our springs are amazing. We’ve got blue skies and butterflies and birds singing and sun shining, but the weather is never boring. There are plenty of good spring thunderstorms and cool fronts to mix things up. Plus, spring in Texas is bluebonnet season. I never tire of seeing that sea of blue along trails and highways. Every April, I stare out the windows of my classroom, wishing I could spend the day outside. Weekends of walks and hammocks and campfires just aren’t enough.
Well, this year, in a very weird way, I finally got my wish. I’ve been given the gift of spring.
Ever since March 13th, when schools were closed due to COVID-19, I’ve been spending so much time outside. I walk myself in the mornings, walk my dog in the afternoons, read in a lawn chair on my driveway in the evenings, and have campfires whenever I want. I’ve even been sleeping on my screened in porch a lot and sometimes participate in my online meetings while sitting on the grass in the front yard. Even when I’m stuck inside, I keep one eye on the squirrels at the window and take brain breaks by watching the birds.
I would never wish this pandemic on the world. If I could get the coronavirus to go away with a snap of my fingers, I’d do it in an instant. But, among the stresses and sadness and uncertainty of this situation, it’s nice to find something positive. This is my happy thing right now. I’ve been given the gift of springtime, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of it.
What about you? What is your happy thing right now? What unexpected gifts have you been given by this experience?
Today I’d like to share a little haiku I wrote that was first published in The Texas Observerin 2015.
Naomi Shihab Nye, who chose the poem for publication, said about my work: “I love Carie Juettner’s understated twist of observational loveliness in this tiny poem. When people in other states ask, as they frequently do, ‘Why do you live in Texas?’ one could simply reply ‘For the flowers’ and be done with it.”
This comment from my favorite poet left me smiling ear-to-ear for several days. I still get a thrill each time I read it and think about her reading my words.
With a big thanks to Naomi and The Texas Observer for giving this haiku its first home, here is “Politics aside”:
Politics aside, wildflower season brings out the blue in Texas