The season forcer cares not for the temperature, for the date on the calendar, or the behavior of fellow humans. There is but one thing on the season forcer’s singularly focused mind: playacting a time of year that’s still weeks — sometimes months — from, you know, actually happening.
The season forcer is never distracted by reality. Oh no. The season forcer creates her own reality — a sort of one-person Matrix. But instead of naked people floating in pink goo generating electricity for their machine masters, this Matrix involves a party of one sipping pumpkin spice latte and wearing a cardigan on a ninety-seven degree morning.
She’s sweating and she doesn’t care. It’s a perfect fall day in the recesses of her mind and that’s all that matters.
We have entered prime season forcer territory: mid-September, when the allure of autumn is tantalizing for people who live in areas that experience seasons, as God and Reagan intended. The final days and weeks before fall begins are ignored by the committed season forcer, who dons clothing appropriate for blustery October days when remnants of summer still hang in the air (and on the thermometer). It’s almost fall, the thinking goes, so therefore it is fall.
You know the season forcer. He’s the guy who, in college, announced to anyone who would listen (no one) that it was time for flips flops. He said this on an unusually balmy March morning, when the sun shone for eleven minutes before steely grey clouds did their thing and made the day as windy and bleak and cold as the previous ninety days. This didn’t deter the campus-dwelling season forcer. This is fine, he said, his toes turning blue, his teeth reflexively chattering as the March day turned up the misery to eleven, as only a March day can do.
The season forcer enjoyed his make-believe thirty eight-degree spring day. Flurries? What flurries? He never even saw them.
The season forcer is your friend who insists on sunbathing in early April, when the temperature peaks at noon before plummeting by three o’clock, when you find your friend in her backyard like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
The season forcer buys a Christmas tree a week before Thanksgiving because, harumph, he just loves Christmas and the tiny baby Jesus and back-breaking credit card debt more than you do, so deal with it. The militant Christmaser would rather not talk about the dried out, brown, leaning, rotting corpse of a tree that sits front and center in his living room on Christmas morning.
I’m qualified to write about the scourge of season forcers because, well, I was one for most of my young adult life, and I married into a family that can all but will a season into existence.
I found myself, a few winters ago, standing on a Delaware beach with my wife’s loving family. It was late February. The wind whipped off the water so hard that I at least considered letting the waves take me to oblivion because it seemed like a more comfortable place. It started to rain, then hail. Little pellets pelted our frozen faces. The wind picked up. I had no feeling in my extremities.
George Washington’s troops who crossed the Delaware River reportedly thought we had it rough.
But we were on the beach, and that’s all that mattered. The previous day had been unseasonably warm and folks were tired of staying inside. It was time to force the hell of out a season, and jump ahead a full five months. It was a risky stunt, at best. We forced summer while in the teeth of winter. It was Extreme Season Forcing. We lost six people on that beach. Never forget.
I used to pretend it was Halloween time for a whole sixty days before trick or treating commenced. I did this as a teenager and a twenty something desperate to hold on to the last vestiges of my childhood, which isn’t so strange for an 80s kid. We all try to hang on to something from that era. My sentimental drug of choice was Halloween. I would visit a half dozen haunted houses — dragging along my friends — as I scoured every Halloween store within fifty miles of my house. I’d watch every movie in the “Halloween” series a few times over between late August and Halloween night. I’d set up my little Halloween village — complete with mansions and little figurines — and endlessly fiddle with the little town until November 1, the darkest day, the saddest day.
And yes, it’s possible for someone with a Halloween village to be sexually active. I have two kids. So there.
Here’s the thing no one tells you about being a compulsive, crazed forcer of seasons: it ruins the enjoyment of said season. My horrible secret: by Halloween day, I would quietly be sick of the season and the holiday and everything about it.
Overdosing on a season by extending it beyond its natural limits sucks the joy out of that time of year. You think a bigger dose this year will do the trick — it’ll rekindle some imagined feeling you once had about Halloween or Christmas or summertime. Just keep taking a bigger hit and you’ll achieve that reminiscent sweet spot. Last year’s dose didn’t work, you think. I didn’t capture the feeling I sought — the one I think I remember from all those years ago. More exposure is all I need. A little more than last year. A lot more, maybe.
I get it. I’ve been there. Those thoughts have burned up my brain’s wiring.
The secret to getting maximum enjoyment or happiness or whatever you’re seeking, in fact, is to limit your exposure to the time of year you love. Stop pretending your favorite season or holiday is just days away and carry on as you would during the doldrums of January and February, when everything is terrible and there’s nothing to look forward to but cold and darkness. I’m speaking as an east coaster.
It’s the ordinary that we’re after. Because without the ordinary — the long stretches when life is just life — the vaunted days and seasons we love aren’t special. Normalizing a season before it’s here chips away at what’s special about it: its fleeting nature, its here-today-gone-tomorrowness. You don’t want it to be fall all year around. You love the flaming colors of the changing leaves and the chill of a still October night and the sweaters you finally get to wear because the time to experience them is finite.
You love a season because it’s not here forever — because it’s not every day. Trust me on this. I’m a recovering season forcer with ample experience.
David Foster Wallace’s famed Kenyon College commencement speech made me think (obsess) about my interest (obsession) with fall, and more specifically Halloween. Like the woman who worships her intellect always feels on the verge of being found out as a fraud, or the man who worships his physique never feels slender or strong enough, or those who worship money never feel financially satiated, the season forcer can never be satisfied in the aftermath of her favorite time of year.
The season forcer spends untold mental energy, money, words, minutes, and hours to extract every drop of joy or enjoyment — or remembered things — only to find that he feels empty on November 1, or December 26, or during the very last days of summer. The season forcer becomes hopelessly obsessed with the time she has left to experience — to savor — that oh-so-special time of year. It’s tragic, really, because it’s that obsession that effectively stops the season forcer from immersing herself in the season.