"April is the cruellest month," wrote T.S. Eliot in his poem "The Waste Land," and I'm inclined to agree with him. Particularly this April, the fourth month of 2018, a year that's already been kind of a doozy (if you don't know what I'm talking about, just read the news — or actually maybe don't). It seems like every dash of something good, every positive step we take — an increased infusion of sun biting into the darkness that's held us for so long — is followed by yet another nor'easter.
Yes, I'm being figurative. But also quite literal. We've been slogging along, still in our heavy coats and hats, and then there's a beautiful surprise sunshiny day we can revel in, letting ourselves believe for a moment that winter is finally over. We toss on a light jacket or maybe even dare to emerge in our short sleeves, letting the crisp (but not too crisp) air touch our bare skin — but, oh, hell no, says winter, slapping us the very next day with something like snow, or endless dreary rain, or just a nasty attitude.
Part of me doesn't believe that winter will actually ever end — even when it looks like it's actually happening. Is it, really? Part of me is too numb to care.
But yet another part reminds herself that this happens every year. It's darkest before the dawn (is it, really? I'm rarely up to check). The cold, the gray, the never-ending slog, it wears us down, but it was less than a year ago that I was on a beach, just six months ago that I stood not hunched over and strained from the bitter weariness of it all but straight and tall, heading through fall. Leaves were yellow and orange and green back then. There are other seasons! There really are! Or at least, there used to be.
Weather isn't the only issue.
Some of the problem with April is taxes. Okay, a whole freaking lot of the problem of April is taxes. And it's not just April, but April is when it comes to a head. It's late December, maybe even November, that I start thinking about that impending appointment with my accountant, the angst creeping in, slowly but surely, wrapping its arms around me like the coat I will wear in perpetuity. As a freelancer, it's worse than ever, what with the rising costs of health care and everything else. I know I will owe — I always owe — and I'm not one of those people who "puts away" 30 percent of their pay. Where are you putting it? I'm eating it, or using it to pay my mortgage.
The question is not if the shoe will drop, but how painful it will feel when falling on me. It's hard for us all, I know. I mean, even if you're getting a refund you still have to do all that math and paperwork, or pay someone else to do it, and that sucks too. Who enjoys standing in line at the post office? And if you're one of those self-satisfied sots who's like, "Oh yes, I'm getting so much back!" well, why did you loan it to the government in the first place?
I know there are people out there who take pride in paying their taxes because it's our contribution to society, yadda yadda yadda, and that's all well and good and honorable. But then I can't help thinking about the "leader" of said "society" and how we've only ever seen that one tax return from him — and then I feel extra sad about basically everything. See what I mean about April?
On the bright side, after April 17, a kind of tension will release. You know what you've gotta do, and you did it (probably). Even if you can't pay it all off in one fell swoop, there's something about sending in that first bit of money to the IRS that feels like a relief. Maybe it's like the first day at a new job: You know it can only go up from there.
At least that's what I'm telling myself. Plus April 17 means the month is more than half over. Someday we will again drink rosé.
But first, oh yeah, we have to get through Mercury in retrograde, another huge problem with much of this year's April. Do you know about Mercury in retrograde? As astrologer Susan Miller explains on her website, "Because Mercury is the planet situated closest to the sun, its orbit is much shorter than Earth's. About three or four times a year, Mercury speeds past Earth, and that is when we experience a Mercury retrograde period." What does that mean, practically speaking? "When a planet retrogrades, astrologically it is in a resting or sleeping state. Therefore, while Mercury naps, the activities that it governs don't have the benefit of a well-functioning, wide-awake planet to supervise them. Expect a certain degree of pandemonium to ensue!"
Perhaps you don't believe in astrology. That's your prerogative, but, um, don't you think it's a little weird that in the last few weeks everything you've ever owned has gone missing or gotten broken or failed to work and pretty much everyone you know is having some sort of difficulty or another, doors slamming in their faces, metaphorically if not literally? And isn't it nicer to blame this all on Mercury in retrograde rather than some general human failing, especially if it's your own?
So, yes, Mercury in retrograde is a thing, and it's coming to an end April 15. There really is light at the end of the tunnel! We really can hope! Maybe April isn't the cruelest month at all, just a moderately unpleasant one. I mean, it chewed me up and spat me out, but I'm sure I learned a lot from my April experience this year, just as Mark Zuckerberg with his. And isn't the weather surprisingly beautiful all of a sudden?
Anyway, it's not the month's fault that we have to pay taxes during April, or that the planets move as they do. It's not even April's fault that it's known more for showers than flowers, or that climate change has turned a lot of the month into just another extension of February — that would be humanity's fault, I'm pretty sure. April doesn't want to be mean, it just is sometimes.
(All my apologies to people called April, it's a lovely name, really and truly.)
Whether things seem hard or things seem easy for you this month, know this: Time does carry on. April ends just as August does, one month at a time, neither of them really more cruel than any others, even if it feels like it. Be kind to yourself as you get through the rest of it. And think about T.S. Eliot: It took him several years to write "The Waste Land," a poem as beautiful and challenging to read as it is useful for badmouthing a month. Just imagine how many cruel Aprils he had to go through! Eventually, he got paid $150 for "The Waste Land" to run in a magazine called The Dial, and it's now considered one of the most important poems of the 20th century.
Eliot got through April — so can you. Though of course, we have no idea what he had to pay back in taxes.