Hang On To Your Hopes, My Friend
2 minutes and 47 seconds of cynical pop perfection
The last major break up I went through was almost two decades ago now, but I still vividly remember listening to The Bangles’ cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Hazy Shade of Winter on headphones a lot in the winter preceding the end of the relationship. I walked the snowy streets on my way home from work in the darkened city, silently lip synching “Hang on to your hopes my friend/ that’s an easy thing to say/ but if your hopes should pass away/ simply pretend/ that you can build them again.”
As the last shreds of that winter left the city, I was collecting my dog and moving out of my house.
The song is one of the best covers I’ve ever heard. The kind of cover where when you hear it, you realize the song’s actual potential. Lou Reed said that the Cowboy Junkies’ cover of ‘Sweet Jane’ was like that. And I’m probably not alone in thinking that Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ is also in this category. Sometimes the second version of a song is just a sharper knife slicing it’s way to your heart.
All that to say, winter isn’t all lights and charm and Christmas carols. But you knew that. We all have bleak winter moments. While I love the lights and music and general excitement that precedes Christmas, I tend to burn out when the actual day arrives.
Last year I spent Christmas’s hazy aftermath taking a lot of long walks listening to Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud album, looking at the lights in the neighbourhood, trying to get my feet under me again after the chaos of the holidays. I was suffering from sensory overload. Too much social time, too much time managing kids who were off their usual routine, too much new stuff in my house, too much mess, too many things to do. Besides all that, my first novel (the one that zero publishers ended up wanting) was about to go on submission. It was exciting, but exciting in a way where I felt like I was in the front seat of a roller coaster at the top of its track’s first hill, not sure if I should hide my eyes in terror or raise my hands above my head and scream with joy. So every night I slipped out of the house, earbuds in ears, desperate for a mental and physical break from it all.
In my forthcoming novel, Make Me a Mixtape (the one that publishers did want) a character finds herself at a similar emotional crossroads. Her aunt tells her to “scrooge herself” meaning use Christmas as a mile marker. She tries to think about how she felt during past holiday seasons and how she wants to feel during future ones. For me, walking with music always helps. If not for the reflection and perspective that comes from moving through the dark winters, I feel like my life would pass by without me noticing.
One particular memory from that winter long ago when I was thinking of ending that previous relationship has stayed with me. That year I ended up completely, depressingly alone on Christmas day. My partner went to be with his friends and my own family was out of town. The dogs needed exercise, so I reluctantly left the house. On our way through the quiet neighbourhood I walked by a house where a Norman Rockwellish scene was playing out behind the large front window. Someone was playing a piano and others gathered around singing. The house was full of smiling people, adults and children. A tree was lit in the background. It looked warm. Everyone seemed to be wearing nice sweaters. It felt like a mirage, like nothing that nice could actually be possible when my own life at the time was so far from it.
The scene stayed with me because it was what I badly wanted. Now, almost two decades later, I have it. The tree, the sweaters, the kids, the family, the warm house. Even a piano visible from the big front window. And now I go for walks alone to give my brain a break from all that I wanted so badly. Not because I regret the choices that brought me to this place, but because we are all human and complicated and no decision ever leads to perfection. We’re all just trying to make it through the winter.
December 2022 - Feelings
Two very different books to recommend this month. I have been on the library waiting list for the Heartstopper series for what feels like an eternity, and finally it was my turn with the first volume this past week. I read it almost in one sitting and was so happy that it lived up to the considerable hype surrounding it. The story is so simple, but so heartfelt. It perfectly nails what it is like to have a crush on someone. More specifically, it somehow reminded me of a feeling I’d long forgotten: the special, excited nervousness that comes when you go over the house of a crush for the first time. I can’t wait to read the other books and then eventually I will give myself permission to watch the TV show. So good.
A Merry Little Meet Cute is not for everyone (as the Goodreads reviews will tell you) but I could not resist a holiday romance about a plus sized porn star who gets cast as the lead in a Hallmark-esque Christmas movie after the original star is no longer able to take the part. So, if you’re up for that premise and you don’t actually mind romance novels that acknowledge the existence of sex, this is a fun one. I found it witty and sweet. I enjoyed Julie Murphy’s previous book, the Cinderella re-telling “If The Shoe Fits”, but this time she is not restrained by the Disney publishing imprint’s rules about what can and can’t be in a book. I’m glad she had fun with this one.
December 2022 - Songs
As per above (and then some).
Hazy Shade of Winter - Bangles
Lilacs - Waxahatchee
You and Me on the Rock - Brandi Carlile
Coldest Night of the Year - Hawksley Workman (cover)
Thanks for reading!
Instagram : @JenniferWhitefordWrites
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My debut romance novel, Make Me a Mixtape is coming from Doubleday in 2024.
I can totally relate to how you and your character feel about walking with music, as well as the experience of seeing a life you want through the window pane. Walks on empty streets with a soundtrack always help me get perspective, and I was actually just listening to Waxahatchee on one of my walks last week! 🧡