“To read a poem in January is as lovely as to go for a walk in June.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre
Our Christmas tree sparkled clear through Epiphany and beyond, lighting that particular corner of its room for so long that we were tempted to just leave it up. “When it starts to brown, we can drag it outside, spray-paint it, and drag it back in again,” Bernard suggested. I almost agreed; really, I did.
But common sense (fear of fire) finally kicked in, and now the house is swept clean of Christmas entirely because January is fresh start season (or, lie-in-bed-with-a-book season; take your pick). Amid tennis tournaments, a multi-artist studio clean-out sale, and back-to-back snow events (in Memphis!), the month held silly celebrations and also some tragic losses. To live fully is to live in the tension between joy and sadness. That, in a nutshell, was January.
Here are a few notes I made along the way, starting with the more ridiculous ones and ending, of course, with some reading suggestions (including a poem):
In the spirit of fresh starts and January cleaning, I have three products to recommend (yes, seriously) because they are life-changing for anyone who digs in dirt (or paint), and/or likes to cook, and/or likes bar soap for hand-washing.
First up is Scrubby Soap. I prefer the lemon, but there are other scents, too – none of them overpowering. This is glycerin-based soap with 2 loofah-ish layers (hard to describe); it removes paint, dirt, or whatever, and it doesn’t strip your hands in the process. If you’re in Memphis, you can pick up a bar (or three) at Me & Mrs. Jones.
Second in line is the Scrub Daddy – and I know you think I’m kidding, but really I am not. The Scrub Daddy – tacky, yellow Smiley-face and all – is everything it promises – which, most importantly, is a kitchen sponge that DOESN’T SMELL. Seriously tacky, yes. Don’t care. And you won’t either.
The third tip isn’t really a cleaning tip, but it’s related: Soap Lift. I found these little wonders next to the good soap display at Whole Foods, and I went back to buy two for every bathroom in our house (one for the sink, one for the tub). They’re awesome for anyone who prefers bar soap to liquid soap. No more slimy soap bar in a soap dish that fills with water. Because, ewww.
Pen, Paper, Plan
You’ll remember that I’m attached to paper planners; for me there is no substitute. So I was delighted reading The Case for Using a Paper Planner, because it’s comforting to me as an odd person to know that I’m not alone in my odd affections.
While I am devoted, utterly, to paper planners generally, I’m fickle when it comes to any specific type. I’ve tried just about every shape and format: filofax, Covey, Levenger, Erin Condren, DayRunner, Ink + Volt, Panda Planner, Moleskine, bullet journals, and just plain spiral notebooks. There are things to like and dislike about each one, so I pick a new one every year or two, just because I can.
This year I’m trying the Daily Greatness business planner, which offers some good planning structure and is very pretty (or at least well-designed) (bonus). Drawback: not enough room for note-taking, so I’ve got a trusty Moleskine tucked inside the back flap (because, of course I do). Will report back later….
What’s for Dinner?
Hell, I don’t know; probably chicken. Again. It’s hard keeping up with work, and teenagers, and sports, and meetings, and life, especially when it’s dark and cold. But we do try, at least three nights a week, to make it to the table, all of us together, to eat.
Since I’m pressed for time, my go-to cooking inspiration these days is Sam Sifton’s charming and delightful newsletter. His suggestions always lead me in some productive direction, even when it’s not exactly the one he offers. To me, it’s fully worth the small price of the subscription, even when I read and don’t actually cook a single thing listed.
A Few Good Reads
The best short story I’ve read in a long while is “The Boundary,” from last week’s The New Yorker. It’s a lovely, lovely meditation. So drop whatever you’re doing and read it now; you won’t be sorry.
If you’re thinking about how to do more, be more, get more in your work this year, take a time-out to read “When Being Unproductive Saves a Career” (which is not entirely unrelated to the whole “art harder” idea).
Questioning your overall sense of purpose in life, as you struggle to remember that’s it’s now ’18 instead of ’17? Take a minute to explore “Why Hobbies Make You Happy,” and you might find inspiration, and some peace, in an unexpected place.
As for books, I just finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which was surprising and beautiful and sad and fantastic. And I think I might read it again, starting tonight. Because it will be hard for another book to take its place in my memory, maybe for a long time.
And last, but not least (and, as promised at the very beginning), the January equivalent of a June walk, for this last day of the first month of the new year. This suggestion comes from a poetry-loving friend who’s celebrating a birthday today (happy birthday!). The school at which she teaches did a tape art thing earlier this week, and the tape art thing led me, and now you, here. Because this, in a nutshell, was January.
And the deep river ran on.
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'
But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'
It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.