The Longest Month

January is the longest month. Objectively, I know this is not true. It is not any longer than other months. Well, it’s quite a bit longer than February, but then, so are most of the other months in the year. January isn’t even the only month that has 31 days in it. And yet, January seems to drag its way through my mind, as if an entire year is encapsulated in this one month. I think about this every year during January. No, “think” isn’t quite the right word for it. It’s more like I fight against this feeling of funk every January. As December slides to a close, it’s as if my mind takes a deep breath and whispers, “Ah, January. My old nemesis …”

I’m not sure why this is. I have my suspicions and feelings about it — so many suspicions and so many feelings! But I couldn’t tell you the actual, psychological ins and outs of it. Because, of course, I am not a psychologist. I’m just a blogger who is sitting at her desk and tapping on her keyboard in order to send words sailing out into the ether.

January is a month of grays and blues. While I personally love those colors, there is something different about the blues and grays of January. It’s as if someone has, ever so slowly, drained all the color from the world, leaving behind something that feels not quite real or not quite solid. And it won’t feel real or solid again until all the colors come back in Spring. This is my second winter here in the midwest, and I am finding the lack of color to be particularly true here. The richness of the fields and farms around our town seems to be slumbering until warmer weather calls it back into existence. The weather is cold. The skies tend to be that kind of gray that is more like a lack of color, instead of being an actual color of its own. The ponds and creeks are crusted over with ice. The earth is hard and unforgiving.

I think of January as a month to endure. December is festive and fun, although (perhaps) also more than a little stressful with family obligations and all the expectations that we tack onto the holiday season. But December has color and sound and laughter and memories. It’s kind of loud and brassy, in a way. February feels like we are just about to turn the corner into Spring. In February, the whole world seems to hold its breath in preparation for what is to come. But January … January is just “there”. It’s a time to pack away the happiness and festiveness of the winter holidays. It’s too early to watch for those little, tell-tale signs of Spring. In January, we slog forward, although, for me, it often feels as if I make little progress.

Depression tends to come for me in January. It’s not like depression ever leaves me completely. I always struggle with it and with anxiety in some form or another, but it seems easier to keep them at bay during other months of the year. January is a quiet, introspective sort of month. It’s a month for thinking about things that have happened and about things that are to come. It’s a month for planning and, maybe, hoping. But all that thinking and self-evaluating sometimes gives depression a foothold in my life. The good thing is that I can usually reason my way out of it, and my coping mechanisms work well for me. But depression and anxiety feel particularly close in January.

January is that one month out of the year in which my life tends to feel like “too much”. I’m always busy, particularly now that I am back to working. But it seems like January saps my energy and leaves me feeling exhausted and used up. It’s strange to me, because I am not doing any more things in January. I am the same amount of “busy” as in all the other months, but it feels more overwhelming and unending in January.

And yet, I try to remind myself that January has its own beauty. Because it is a quiet and unassuming month, I feel like January gives me a chance to see the small things in life that might otherwise go unnoticed. Spotting a cardinal on my fence, its red feathers bright and almost garish against the white-gray background of a snowy yard, is even more of a treat. A day of sun and pale blue skies emerges as an unexpected blessing and breath of fresh air amid the cloudy gray days. There is a special kind of beauty to be found in the heavy quiet that falls over the world on a snowy night, when fat flakes drift down and the earth speaks in whispers. Frost curls and grows across our window panes, creating delicate and lacy filigree.

I try to keep my spirits up in January. I leave my Christmas decorations out all the way through the month. I make sure to turn on the trees every evening, and I like to spend some time sitting quietly in our darkened living room with a cup of tea to enjoy the lights. I spend time with my daughter re-playing Breath of the Wild and adventuring in beautiful Hyrule. I give myself time to think and dream on story ideas and character outlines. I read fanciful and cute little romances. I watch Pride & Prejudice on repeat. I play with nail polish.

And so, January passes. One day soon, I will look at the calendar and feel surprised to realize it is February. I know I will feel a bit of relief to have survived another “dreary” January. But this year, I hope I can also look back on this, the longest of all months, and see the beautiful memories and moments, too.

Oh, Christmas Tree

I’m one of those people. You know … the ones who put their Christmas decorations up right after Thanksgiving and, then, leave them in place until sometime in February. I know, I know. People like me tend to annoy and irritate most everyone else. I mean, not all the time. But when it comes to the whole Christmas decoration thing, we’re a pain in the hoo-hah.

I think the right after Thanksgiving thing is pretty common. Most people I know put their trees and decorations up the weekend after Thanksgiving. Growing up, my dad worked what was called a “seven and seven” schedule. This meant he spent seven days living at his work site, and then he was home for seven days. If he was home for Thanksgiving, my family always put up our decorations the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday. So we would gorge on turkey and count our blessings on Thursday. And by Saturday, we would be out hiking over our property in search of the perfect tree. By Sunday, our tree and house would be all decked out: ornaments, lights, the works. On that first Sunday evening, once all the lights were in place, we would turn all of them on, including the tree. Our house was at the top of a hill, and we had a long, unpaved driveway down to the road in and out of the area where we lived. We would all hike down the driveway just so we could see all of the lights from a distance. Good memories.

My family kept the tree up a little longer than most of my friends’ families. Although it could vary depending on my dad’s work schedule, my parents generally left the tree up for about a week after Christmas. We always had a live tree, which, of course, limited how long we could leave it up. By New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day at the latest, my dad generally had us undecorating and putting everything away. I can’t remember ever ringing in the new year with our decorations in place.

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This year, we were late in putting up our tree. We were busy, and putting up the tree is a lot of work. There are things to be hauled from the garage. There are boxes to be searched. There are lights to be untangled and tested. There is furniture to be moved. Still, we got the tree up and running by the end of the first week in December. We had a beautiful tree this year, if I do say so myself. It was all decked out in colored lights, which gave it a beautifully pastel glow at night. For the past several ¬†years, we’ve used all white lights. We have a fake tree that came pre-lit. I like the white lights, too. But the tree is old and the lights don’t work any longer. In a way, this is great. Because those colored lights were fabulous this year. Really fabulous.

By all rights, we should have taken our tree down weeks ago. Most people I know — especially folks who had real trees — have them down and packed away the day after Christmas. We used a real tree for a few years, and, even then, I couldn’t bring myself to take it down that quickly. Although we had to let it go by the end of the first week in January. Real trees just get too dry and dangerous. And messy.

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Having a fake tree does away with all of that. It doesn’t do away with the mess — at least, not completely. Our tree is old and sheds. A lot. But it’s not likely to dry out and catch on fire. This is a big plus, because it means I can keep the tree up as long as I want. Last year, I think we took our tree down sometime in March. And it didn’t get put away in the garage until April. This is overly long, even for me. But last year was a weird and horrible year. I was too worried about my husband’s heart attack, surgery, and recovery to care much about the tree.

As I sit and type this, my tree is still assembled and decorated. It sits proudly in front of a window on the second floor. I still turn it on every night so I can sit and watch the lights. I still look forward to coming home in the evening and seeing it lit up through the front window of my house. I know Christmas is over. I know I’m “supposed” to take down all the decorations and put everything away and get on with the business of “normal life”. I know it’s unconventional and, maybe, even a little bit weird to still have the tree up and lit. I get it. I really do.

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But here’s the thing: I don’t care.

I hate January. I hate this month with a mighty passion and the strength of ten dozen burning suns. It is a sad month for me, one that has always made me feel bittersweet, anxious, and unsettled. Now, one year after my husband’s heart surgery, I have even more terrible memories associated with January. All month, my Facebook memories have been from our time in the hospital or from just before my husband’s heart attack happened. January is gray and chilly and … well, to be honest, it’s more than a little bit boring. It’s also extremely long. Thirty one days … and I feel the true weight of each and every one of them.

The Christmas tree makes me happy. It gives me a little bit of brightness in a world that is locked into the midst of winter. It gives me a little pick-me-up on gray and dreary days that make me think Spring will never come. It helps me get over the bad memories. It’s not like the tree is going to erase those things. But seeing the cheerful lights and the beautiful ornaments helps to smooth out the edges just a little. It’s cheerful.

And so, it shall stay. At least until February. And I will happily remain one of those people. But I did bring in some of my outside lights. I might be one of those people … But I’m not a savage.