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Winslow Homer:
A Winter Morning Shoveling Out (published January 14, 1871)

" … reward for my latest Success and precursor to the next."

After New Year's, this world enters into the HollowingOut Season, one destined to continue until Spring. With winter not yet a fortnight old, I feel unaccustomed it its rhythm. I continue cruising on the cadence I adopted toward the end of Autumn, one which helped propel me into a great and glorious Success. That past, the horizon fills with emptiness, at least on those days when the freezing fog lifts enough for some semblance of a horizon to appear. Those days seem rare. I experience Success's everyday companion, the HollowingOut feeling designating the recent absence of something. The question always becomes, following even modest successes: What next? What now? Somehow, achievement's reward always includes a healthy dose of grief. The familiar pursuit's sudden absence leaves a disquieting silence.

I never know better.
I always need to learn this lesson again, fresh following every Success. When I performed for a living, the morning after a performance brought this same sense of hollowness. However high I climbed the evening before, I seemed to find solid ground again by morning. I landed with a familiar thud. The greater the sense of Success, the more significant the resulting thud. Same story when I attended university. The end of a semester brought some relief but a more substantial thud, followed by another HollowingOut Period. I'm coming to understand that the Thud and the HollowingOut constitute Success' reward, like shoveling out amounts to the reward bestowed by an overnight snowstorm.

Each HollowingOut always seems uniquely punishing. This season brings almost total isolation here near the center of the universe. Family couldn't travel for the holiday and were wise to stay tucked in out of the weather again. We're prisoners here near Heaven, with freezing fog rendering roadways dangerous. We some days feel as if we're cut off from civilization. Hell, some days, I hardly feel civilized here. I recognize that I'm between passions, awaiting a requisite distraction, something to stir my attention again. Until then, I barely go through what might distantly pass as motions. I seem essentially static, watching, waiting for something I cannot quite imagine yet.

While I idle, ideas percolate. A rough to-do list threatens to overwhelm by capacity. I will one day—probably not today or tomorrow, but one day—identify a renewed focus and wander off in that general direction. Until then, I experience serial dereliction of duty, just as if I still held any responsibility. I cower before my future, unwilling or perhaps unable to embrace it yet. I felt shocked to realize on New Year's Day that it had been a full quarter of a century since the day before yesterday. I sense that I'm on a conveyor belt that never sleeps. It's always creeping forward, regardless of how comfortable or painful any moment might seem. They might just as well be dreams. They're slipping away even as I taste them. Before I can swallow, they will have become part of the great and inglorious HollowingOut, the reward for my latest Success and precursor to the next. Was it ever any different?

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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