It is a saying with which most of us are familiar, and although many don't know the references well (myself being one of those), we understand the gist. Winter is a season of the year when everything dies off or goes dormant. Nothing is growing or blooming, and life slows down as we huddle inside warm dwellings to escape the brutal weather outside.
The word discontent has connotations of being in a state where we aren't getting what we want. Webster's defines content as - satisfied, and discontented as - dissatisfied. All of us deal with discontentment in our lives. We spend billions of dollars every year on cosmetic surgery, diets, makeup, clothing, etc. as we pursue a more perfect version of ourselves than the one we see when we look in the mirror. My latest book, I Am Perfect (in God's Eyes) deals with this very issue.
To many of us the phrase "the winter of our discontent" means the height, or depth, of being dissatisfied.
In order to be as thorough and as accurate as possible, I researched the references of the phrase "the winter of our discontent" for this blog. The first appearance on record is in the opening lines of William Shakespeare's Richard III.
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by the sun of York."
In that passage, Shakespeare is referring to a time a discontentment or dissatisfaction that has been transformed into a time of satisfaction and prosperity, symbolized by summer. Another common reference of the phrase is a Labor Dispute in England during the winter of 1978-1979. The third and final common reference is John Steinbeck's novel, The Winter of Our Discontent.
It was Steinbeck's novel which struck a chord in me.
According to Wikipedia, The Winter of Our Discontent is about Ethan Hawley, who after losing his family fortune, is relegated to working in a grocery store. Feeling pressure from his family and acquaintances to achieve more than his current station, Ethan considers letting his normally high standards of conduct take a brief respite in order to obtain a better social and economic position. (synopsis courtesy of Wikipedia)
In his novel, Steinbeck does a masterful job of illustrating the temptations we all feel, although we rarely act on them, to break the rules to achieve the things we desire. Whether it is gambling on the lottery, cutting corners in finances, or resorting to illegal activities; all of us are human and therefore subject to temptation. The secret, of course, to contentment is to be satisfied with the things we do have. But that is easier said than done. Especially when many of our friends and family have more than we do. Especially when the television schedule is full of movies and shows featuring material success and reality shows about wealthy celebrities. Especially when it is Christmas and we can't afford to give our loved ones all the things we want to give them.
As an aspiring author, the concept of discontentment is one which I struggle with on a daily basis.
I have not yet achieved the sales level of a Tom Clancy or Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. I cannot yet afford an extravagant writing studio resplendent with mahogany and leather. I do not yet have a summer home on Martha's Vineyard. I have not yet achieved the literary acclaim that is afforded the great writers of their time.
Writing is a pursuit that rarely elicits instant gratification. It takes years of hard work to garner notoriety and recognition. Authors have to continue to slog through rejection after rejection and continue to believe in themselves when no one else does.
- Stephen King's first novel - Carrie - was rejected dozens of times before it was picked up.
- William Golding's Lord of the Flies, (a literary classic) was rejected 20 times. One publisher added the following comment to his rejection: "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (later Sorceror's) Stone was rejected by a dozen publishers.
Some authors only receive recognition for their work after they have passed on.
Recently I have been experiencing a winter of discontent in regards to my writing. Sales have been slow, feedback has been scarce, and my desire and enthusiasm have plummeted like the temperature on a January night in New England.
Much like the seasons, the winter of my discontent is not a permanent condition but a necessary passage of time. However, unlike the dramatic transformation to summer in Shakespeare's Richard III, my winter is slowly easing into spring, with bitter ice and snow giving way to chilly rain. And when the cold rains of early spring come; blossoming flowers, chirping birds, and the warming rays of the sun beaming down from heaven are not far behind.