The Importance of an Off-Season

Emily Walshe - Commack, New York
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, February 17, 2012
Emily Walshe

In the cold, dark months of winter, Emily Walshe yearns for some quiet time, but work and family obligations often keep her too busy to slow down. Walshe believes we need a period of rest and reflection to help us be more productive the remainder of the year.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, work

Last October, our daughter’s soccer coach called an urgent meeting for parents. “We need to book an indoor facility for Winter League,” he said.

“Winter League?” I thought. It hadn’t occurred to my husband and I that our commitment to the soccer club was anything other than a seasonal one.

So two months later when we entered the training complex ­ aglow in a bright fluorescence that belied the winter solstice ­ I wondered, “what ever happened to the off-season?” You know, that time of year for atrophy and adagio?

What every gardener knows to be true became suddenly apparent to me as I watched our daughter race across the synthetic turf: that seeds sown in the fall for bloom in the spring require a good, long winter slumber.

Over time, people from all walks of life have understood and imitated nature’s rhythmic lull in varying degrees: Cicero in oration, Sun Tzu in war, Mozart in sound music. Even Michael Jordan, when he wasn’t flying across the basketball court, was known to practice the discipline of dormancy.

In fall and winter when much of nature begins its languor, my own body eases into a rhythm parallel to my environment. The shorter days are inviting me to slow down, shore up my reserves, and perhaps even hibernate. But I consider this dysfunctional ­– as if being “affected” by the season is an unnatural thing. Instead, to compensate for fewer hours of daylight, I economize my time with increased activity.

Retailers conspire to feed this false scarcity of time by stocking their shelves with Christmas cards at Halloween, valentines in the New Year, and Easter bunnies on Presidents Day. But the larger truth is that, in an outcomes-oriented culture, the balance between active and passive is decidedly tipped.

Many school districts are eliminating recess. I, like several of my colleagues, regularly forego a lunch hour to do more work or run errands. And off-seasons aren’t “off” at all because we are quick to animate them with endurance training (for athletes) or cheap fares (for travelers).

To be sure, there is little room for repose in a 24/7 world. Idleness, I suppose, is just a step away from death. Maybe this is why the barren days of winter have always made me uncomfortable, and why my circadian-sensitive friends have all migrated to places where the change in seasons is nearly imperceptible.

It took the experience of almost mothballing our winter days into a climate-controlled sports bubble to inhabit this belief: that it is the rest between notes that gives rise to a melodic life.

So this season, we are “off.” No winter leagues, or anything else conceived in the name of perennial achievement. Instead, we reserve our darker days for things like catechism classes and watching seeds sprout in our windowboxes.

I believe that these simple changes in the character of our calendar bring our my family the respite that makes renewal possible ­ensuring life around us (from prepubescent athletes to purple petal alliums in my garden) their chance to bloom.

Emily Walshe is a librarian and professor at Long Island University in New York. Her research in the area of social informatics and digital literacy is recognized internationally. Her personal essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, New York Newsday, and American Libraries magazine. Emily lives on Long Island with her husband and three children.

Independently produced by John Gregory for This I Believe, Inc.