It’s January. A month I don’t like much. Where I feel pressure to set ambitious goals and expectations for the year, and commit to new beginnings which I’ve usually ditched by February. Where I vow to exercise more and eat less. Where by MLK day, I’m ready to binge on pizza and Netflix every night. Where it’s cold outside and my puffer jacket makes me feel like a model for Michelin tires, the kind you see blowing outside car dealerships. Where the sun sets too early, and an aperitivo is a green tea instead of an Aperol Spritz. Where I’m trying to embrace Dry January, which I wish meant no rain instead of no booze. Where after this past year’s December, which, for me, was full of celebrations with the best of family and friends for my recent milestone birthday, January arrives like a gloomy gong.
Where I went to the hairdresser a week ago to zap my grey roots with “natural” color to look younger. Where my hairdresser cut my hair in a rush and now I’m convinced my bob is lopsided. Where I don’t have the strength to return to him, because I fear I’ve turned into the odious woman then seated next to me who threw a fit about her newly-tinted locks. Who stood outside the salon studying her new color with a pocket mirror while our hairdresser tried to convince her she looked youthful as a platinum blonde. Maybe our hairdresser was having a January day. The kind where nothing seems to work just yet. Like the ones we all seem to have at the start of any new year.
Her color was off. My hair was lopsided. He wasn’t seeing straight. We all just wanted to be evened out. We wanted January over before it had barely started.
January is where I hate all the clothes in my closet but can’t afford to dig into the sales after my Christmas-gift-giving. Where all men in Florence dress to kill in the latest trends for Pitti Uomo fashion week, and I’m scouring bargains off of bargains at Zara. Where I doom scroll on Instagram and loathe Gwyneth for detoxing, and wonder if Chiara Ferragni ate even one slice of panettone over the holidays.
Where I order a puffer vest to inspire me to run in cold weather, thinking I’ll enjoy running if I look cute. Where my dog gets nervous when I pick up the pace from our usual saunter at the Villa Borghese, probably thinking I am going to run away from her for good. Where no one but my dog knows that I ran as long as it takes to heat my coffee in the microwave. And that my ankles hurt the next day because of it.
January is when I spend more time reading than writing — the couch lures me far more than my desk. I’ve read four books so far: Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (too much of a Covid novel, I’m done with lockdowns, and I’m tired of her characters); Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (wonderful); What Comes After by Joanne Tompkins (excellent, thought-provoking debut novel); and A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson (my favorite read so far this year). Yesterday I received a free PDF of Prince Harry’s Spare, and I’m not snobby enough to dismiss it.
Anything to tear me away from my least favorite house guest who arrived a couple of weeks ago. He follows me around the house, wordlessly, and hovers. His name is Mr. Imposter Syndrome. Some of you may know him. He convinces me daily that I have nothing to say, and that no one will ever want to read an essay or a book that I write. I’m told we are in an abusive relationship because I often listen to him and curl up into the fetal position with my book, and ignore the blinking cursor that pounds as if it’s about to have a heart attack. In writing this piece, I’m hoping he will start packing his bags and move out soon. Feel free to invite him over to your house for tea. Did I mention that he also makes me eat all my kids’ cookies in the cupboard? And all those leftover Christmas chocolates that, shame, are growing stale and need attention.
Yesterday, Blue Monday was acknowledged by many who fall prey to the marketing campaign to help sell holidays. It was launched in 2005 by a UK travel agency that hired psychologist Cliff Arnall to invent a formula for the bleakest day of the year. It’s typically the third Monday of January, and labelled due to an equation which multiplies and divides factors of the month when gloomy weather is most depressing, pockets are still feeling deeply empty from the festivities, resolutions are broken, and a new vacation feels like months away. Not necessarily something that Einstein might agree with mathematically. But certainly those, like me, who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and hug sunlamps, see where truth can be found in the hypothesis over the theory.
All this being said, there’s always one day I like in the first month of a new year, and it’s January 2nd, the day my husband and I married each other 19 years ago. This year we celebrated our anniversary in Napoli as a family, and it was bliss. Pizza, pizza, pizza. Our Neapolitan taxi driver said he’d never heard a family talk about food as much as we did in our short ride from our Air BNB to the train station. I took it as the highest of compliments, especially from a Neapolitan. We’ll see the Cristo Velato next time.
And, then, there was another day this year in January, last week, when I came across a poem. It’s titled “Peace, Not Quiet” by Lyndsay Rush, otherwise known as Mary Oliver’s Drunk Cousin:
"The meanest thing
anyone can say to me is, “calm down”
(A close second and third being,
“that wasn’t funny,”
and, “the snacks are gone.”)
I’m not here for a quiet time I’m here
for a resounding one
I’m here to grate fresh parm all over my life
and never say “when”
I’m here to grab life by the clown nose
I’ve made it a sacred practice to speak
my mind and
my daily breathwork is laughter
So perhaps I’m living proof that
you don’t have to pipe down at all
to find inner peace”
It may not be Dante or Shakespeare but this poem resonates with me.
Why shouldn’t every day for the rest of the year be about spreading fresh parmigiano all over life? In excess. Whenever desired. With no time or portion control. It makes us happy, keeps us healthy, and adds flavor to anything dull.
And, furthermore, may my daily breathwork always be laughter. Namaste. All those truly special in my life make me laugh until my sides ache. I don’t have time or patience for the overly serious.
And, for the record, piping down will never ensure my inner peace. Word.
Let’s make 2023 about sprinkling parmigiano over life, and breathing laughter into it. Indeed a resounding one.
I just sprinkled a little parm over this newsletter and laughed at it. I hope you will, too.
Impareggiabile, come sempre. Evviva il parmigiano! evviva le parole! evviva i vestiti che stanno stretti e i capelli che non sono a posto! Evviva Sheila, che continuo a leggere
Great piece, Sheila, brought a dawn smile to my face. But for me November is way worse than January. There is little hope in November, with the prospect of weeks of shortening days, the obligation to be happy about Christmas consumerism, and an air filled with fug and bugs and coughs and colds. At least in January there is hope: it’s a start rather than an end, a little more Vitamin D in the atmosphere each day… and the chance you might see a snowdrop peeping out of the frozen earth.