In defence of checking out (sometimes)
How to survive February, plus a recipe for quince crumble
Welcome to the first installment of Rising Up! I’m so happy to be starting this conversation with you.
My plan for this newsletter is for it to unfold somewhat organically, led by you, my subscribers. Each week I’ll explore a theme, alternating between the personal and the political, the micro and the macro, so do let me know what topics you’re interested in and I’ll sculpt the newsletter accordingly. You can add your ideas here.
But first, I’m going to have to start with a confession.
While I’ve been super excited about launching this Substack and have spent the last few weeks buzzing around planning interviews with some wonderful people, I’ve actually felt a bit stressed about writing this first post. The pressure of thinking it needs to be ground-breaking. Worrying about judgment. Fretting about shame.
Then I looked out of my window, on this cold and foggy London morning, and remembered that it’s the middle of February in the northern hemisphere and we’re all supposed to be Wintering. So, fuck it, I needed to chill out.
Wintering is a concept I first heard about through the writer Katherine May in her moving book Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times. Part memoir, part manifesto, the book explores the majestic beauty that can be found in the winter season of nature but also investigates the concept of personal winters in our lives, a time she describes as
“a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.”
Examples of personal winters might be during a depression or bereavement, when dealing with an illness, the loss of a job or relationship, or a challenging postpartum period. May shares how she navigated one of her own personal winters, a time when she had a family crisis, resigned from her job as an academic and spent many months feeling low and overwhelmed, needing to retreat from everyday life.
I recently read May’s book and found it instantly relatable. I’d hadn’t yet found the words to describe it, but it made me realise I've been Wintering since last summer. My fourth miscarriage had taken a huge amount out of me and for six months afterwards I could only operate on half power, social gatherings exhausted me, replying to messages resulted in overwhelmed and I found it really hard to focus on my work. A deep wave of relief moved through me as I read May’s words. Maybe I’m not going mad after all, I thought, maybe I’m just wintering…
“It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing these deeply unfashionable things — slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting — is a radical act now, but it’s essential.” Katherine May, Wintering.
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So why am I sharing this with you, as I kickstart a newsletter about hope and resilience?
Because I imagine, having subscribed to this Substack, you’ve probably experienced a few personal or political winters yourself. Maybe you are even in one now. And the lesson for me from May’s book was this, that before we can rise up… we have to nestle down.
May argues that we all go through periods of Wintering at various times in our lives and rather than feeling this is something we should resist, if we lean into it, we might just find the wisdom we need there.
As I’ve reflected on May’s words, I’ve looked back on the political winters I have experienced too, times when I felt despondent and depleted, when I have simply had to withdraw. The crushing period after the start of the Iraq war in 2003 most acutely springs to mind, as do the months after the last recent general election in the UK in 2019 when Boris Johnson was re-elected with a huge majority. In both moments, I felt I had given everything I could to each movement and felt so devastated that I simply needed to check out for a while. Now I wonder, instead of feeling inadequate or remorse about that, perhaps it would have been more helpful to reframe those times. To see periods when we need to withdraw from politics as cyclical moments which are actually an essential part of the rhythm of political life. It can help us feel more hopeful, I think, to know that by retreating we can recalibrate and come back stronger.
May reminds us that while Wintering can often feel like a lonely and painful time, it's actually a process of profound change. So she encourages us to accept or even welcome our winters, because they’re a crucial part of our evolution.
“Wintering is how wisdom is made, and every time we winter, we grow in resilience and compassion, and we deepen our capacity for joy” Katherine May
If you are going through a personal or political winter season right now, I send you my sincerest well wishes and invite you to take a deep breath and just give yourself a break.
But even if you aren’t experience an inner winter at the moment, the external winter right now, at least in the Northern hemisphere, is best approached with a sense of surrender.
Replicate the patterns of nature in winter — slow down, don’t feel bad for hibernating, certainly don’t feel bad for not engaging with others. Take a break from the news for a while (trust me, it’s rare that anything really big ever changes). Go for walks. Go to bed early. Try and grab some moments for yourself to spend in solitude (not always an easy task I appreciate; a cup of tea on your own in a room with the door closed for 10 minutes can work wonders).
Also —- and I'm just going to throw this out here — maybe think about making a crumble. I don’t why I associate this with Wintering but I do and, let’s be honest, everyone feels better when they are eating steaming hot fruit under a crunchy sweet crumb. So, as it’s February and we need all the cheer we can to get through winter in whatever its forms, below you’ll find a new recipe from me for a seasonal quince crumble, spiced with cinnamon and cloves.
I hope this newsletter has given you some interesting philosophical points to think about as we start this journey together. If you want to dig in more, you can hear Katherine May on numerous podcasts such as this one, and I recommend checking out her books and podcasts too.
But above all, please take today’s newsletter as a permission slip to rest, say no, switch off your phone. We need to gather our energies for the upcoming spring. And there is so much work to do.
Have you experienced a personal or political winter? Are you in one now? What has helped you through? Let me know in the comments.
For me, the cold winter months call for a rotation of fruit crumbles, which always manage to comfort and delight in equal measure. This one is made with seasonal quinces which you can track down in Middle Eastern stores or farmers’ markets. Ocado and Waitrose also have them, FYI. I use a 9inch/23cm pie dish for this.
850g/1lb 14 oz quinces (around 3 medium fruit)
1 ½ cups/350 ml water
3 tbsp sugar sugar
¼ tsp ground cloves (about 10 cloves)
½ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups/ 200g all-purpose/plain flour
1 ¼ sticks/140g fridge cold unsalted butter
½ cup + 2 tbsp cup/ 125g white caster sugar
¼ tsp salt
Place the quince, water, spices and sugar in a large shallow pan (a saute pan would be ideal so the fruit is submerged in the water). Cover and cook for 15 minutes over a medium heat until the quince is quite soft.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked fruit to your pie dish. Then reduce the poaching liquid by turning up the heat and simmering it for about five minutes or until it has reduced by half. Pour this liquid over the fruit.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
Make the crumble topping by combining the flour, butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl and mixing it with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs. (You can also do this in a food processor using the pulse button)
Spoon the crumble topping over the fruit, lightly pressing it down to make sure all the quinces are covered.
Transfer the crumble to the oven and bake for about 40 minutes until the crumble is golden brown on top and you can see the fruit bubbling underneath.
Serve with custard or cream.
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Loved this! The idea of wintering is so important- life is not this linear route of achievements, it’s setbacks and meandering and finding yourself somewhere unexpected. I had multiple miscarriages and my heart just goes out to you, that peculiar, visceral sense of loss and the need to slow down to recover. Looking forward to your next post. X
Wintering is something I am very fond of, even in Los Angeles. Freelance life can be incredibly satisfying while at the same time confusing. When to rest, when to hustle, when to go away, and when to stay put, are thoughts that constantly go through my head. Your post helped me feel less alone so thank you. Also- anything with quince is fab in my world. I would love to be wintering with a bowl of quince crumble any day!