There’s something about small talk that gets easier in the spring.
Maybe vitamin D promotes the propagation of extroverted neurotransmitters in our brains. For whatever reason, when the sun is shining there’s this delicious ease to saying hello to a passerby and flashing them a smile – a real smile, a smile with roots deeper than lips and teeth. My mom always tells me she can hear through the phone whether I am truly smiling when I answer a phone call. The first half of my semester didn’t have very many of those real-smile days.
But we’ve finally hit April, and the warmth of the season is here to stay. The tense pinch of cold in the air is lifted, like a kink getting cracked back into place in your spine, or finally finding a bathroom when you’ve been holding it for, like, a very long time.
In spring, the air itself can breathe again. The world rubs its eyes and blinks. Clouds clear and trees rejoice. Yes, they yawn and stretch into the sunlight. Relief.
So I keep passing people on the sidewalk, smiling at them and saying hello when I’m late to class and they definitely have better things to do. They tell me as much when I ask how it’s going – they’re good, they say, just on their way to one thing or another.
“This is a crazy time of year,” I keep hearing myself say to these rushing sidewalk friends. “Hang in there.” Instead of saying goodbye or see you later, I ambiguously encourage them, “Keep on keeping on.”
Those are probably weird things to say in a three-second sidewalk interaction. But in my defense, it is a crazy time. Everything is busy. There are end-of-year events, wrung unforgivingly from the weary sponge of our social and extra-curricular calendars. There are overlapping commitments every week and running-late’s and leaving-early’s. There are bucket list items yet uncrossed. There are departmental awards and coffeeshop jobs to apply for, student org elections and charity 5k’s to run. In the near distance, there are final nights out, final exams, final goodbyes. There are tassels dangling inevitably from shiny red caps. There are summer decisions, there are last-minute plan revisions and there are first inhalations of autumn-ward dreams.
So, it is. It’s a ridiculous time of year and when all you need to do is buckle down and get stuff done, the nice weather is very frustrating.
But this is college. In the hive that is spring, somehow we bloom, and we bloom frenetic.
Earlier this month, I attended a recital by violist Christian Sugarev in the Center for Performing Arts to fulfill part of a requirement for my music major. The recital’s flyer was an ink pen sketch of a man with a long forehead and curly hair, printed on plain computer paper with the performance’s time and date. It looked simple and unusual and, hey, it fit into my schedule, so I went.
Inside Souers recital hall, the half-sheet program glowed warmly in the yellow stage lights, the orangey wood of every surface, the red of the Miami sweatshirt on the back of the patron seated in front of me. As Sugarev started to play, I started to write down everything on my mind in the margins of the program. A piece ended, we applauded. Another one. I kept writing, building an elaborate rambling flow chart on the page that wouldn’t be quiet. To-do lists cross-pollinating my observations of the performance and my insecurities of that day, weedy ideas I’d thought of in an earlier class that I didn’t want to forget.
In the middle of a scribble, the music suddenly stopped. I looked up. Sugarev stood still, eyes wide on his viola. He slowly coiled his finger around something in the air too thin to see from the back of the hall and tugged, a bewildered demonstration to clue the audience in on what had just happened. At the peak of the piece, at its penultimate instant, he had played with such force that he’d broken a string.
Sugarev excused himself to fix the problem, restringing backstage and ripping up and down all the notes it could play to make sure it’d hold. After a minute, he came back out to cheers and applause, and resumed where he had left off.
In his rush to return and finish the concert, Sugarev’s tuning of that replaced string wasn’t perfect; the remainder of the performance sounded the slightest bit harsh, less effortless than before. We still cheered and clapped even louder when he finished the piece, and he smiled and held the viola out to the side and plucked each string individually to prove they weren’t going anywhere this time. But I related too much to Sugarev. At least for me, fall was like the controlled, focused warm-up for the big performance. Spring is sawing on a viola until a part of it literally breaks.
So, here we are. Amidst the lovely weather and excited anticipation for the end of the year is a different kind of fear and dread for the unknown horizon. But there’s beauty, too, in that rushed replacement of a snapped string — the stressed, messy striving that keeps us afloat.
Walking back toward my dorm that night after the performance, I hit that same spot in the sidewalks’ cliche crisscrossing where I keep making weirdly breezy small talk, in front of the Armstrong terraces that now are fully in bloom. Some of the pink petals had already blown off the branches, clumping along the sidewalk in thick frosting swipes I wanted to bury my toes under. It’s bougie and touristy and naive, but I pulled out my Polaroid camera and took a picture of the trees anyway.
The picture printed, coming out all indigos and violets in the dim light of streetlamps, the cake-frosting color of those petals lost in the ink. Oh well, I told myself. I tried.
Then I saw an unidentified white speck in lower part of the photo. I looked back up at the picturesque terrace and smiled. In the shadow of the elegant pink trees, a lonely dandelion puff was growing in the grass, reaching, gloriously yearning to be.