January is the Cruelest Month

(This essay originally appeared in The Beach Reporter, a community newspaper in southern CA, where I wrote a weekly column for five years.)

Poets may opine about April being the cruelest month, but to me January is the pits.  I can’t even be poetic about January.  January is a month that is just kind of there, waiting to be over with.

I suppose there are some people who like January.  They would claim it is a month for new beginnings, a time for assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses and moving ahead.  These are the same people who look at half a glass of water and see it as half-full.  The rest of us see it as half-empty.

I’m not depressing you, am I?  I can’t even say that January depresses me.  It’s more like a case of the blahs.  I suppose psychologists would call it something fancy like “post-holiday-letdown.”  They would tell you to do something cheery for yourself like get a manicure or take a vacation.

But one big problem in January, is that you don’t have any money left for a manicure or a vacation.  You’ve just spent November and December single-handedly making sure that the retail spending index makes a comeback.  The numbers on your charge cards are worn smooth, and you get nervous when a clerk calls in your Visa number.

You bought your kids all those toys, that now sit in a heap in a corner of their bedroom, and they are complaining that there’s nothing to do.

New Year’s resolutions are supposed to cheer us up – give us hope and optimism that we can overcome our faults and become Perfect People.  I like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, really I do.  But do you know anyone who is still holding true to them by January 15th?  If you do, I’d like to interview them for an article I’m writing on Perfect People.  So far, no one has stepped forward.

The trouble with resolutions is that as soon as you make them, they weigh heavily on your mind, and they become all you can think about.  Especially if you have told every person you know that you are quitting smoking, going on a diet, starting an exercise program, learning Italian, finishing “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and ending world hunger.  These are big commitments for someone who thinks that getting out of bed is a big commitment.

So, naturally, when our lofty ambitions haven’t panned out by the middle of January, we toss them aside, with more than a little twinge of guilt.

Even the weather in January is at its bleakest.  Sure, we have a few days with blue skies, but don’t you hate it when the sky is cold, gray steel it’s dark every morning when you leave for work?

It’s hard to love a month without a major holiday that involves eating candy.  After experiencing the roller coaster of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas or Hanukkah, it’s natural to be a little cranky.  You’ve been on a whirlwind of eating, shopping, partying, and eating some more.  In January, your blood sugar doesn’t know what to do, because it’s not getting its daily ration of See’s candies.

In January you have an overwhelming desire to wear your sweat pants everywhere, because they are the only things that feel comfy.  You just can’t believe that in the past two months your body could have betrayed you so badly.  Just because you’ve been eating stuffing made with three cubes of butter, pecan pie with slabs of vanilla ice cream, and 400 bowls of salted nuts.

January frightens me somehow.  The old year has slammed its doors shut, and a clean slate has been presented.  That clean slate is my responsibility, and I feel pressure to make the upcoming year better than the past one.  I am supposed to have learned from my mistakes, and be a wiser person with each passing year.  Then why do I feel as though I know less now than I ever have in my life?

In January, you are confronted with the more mundane aspects of life.  Kids with runny noses and chicken pox.  Yourself with the flu, and no one to cover for you at work.  Tinsel that seems to have worked its way into every nook of your house.  Microwave dinners eaten on the run, instead of feasting and fun.  It’s a midpoint between the rush of excitement that is fall, and the fun and leisure of spring and summer.

It is thirty-one days long.  I think I’ll go get a manicure and take a vacation.

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