the debate over january

The seemingly trivial debate over the merits of winter offers an outlet for seasonal frustration.

I’m trying to catch some of the optimism from Steven Kurutz’s recent paean to January. Winter friends — those who, contrary to all hedonic and circadian sense, love dark days and black ice — have been forwarding the story to me, triumphant, as if once and for all it’s been settled, the pointless, perennial battle of the seasons. Fortified with talking points, the winter warriors are in my inbox, ticking off upsides: less traffic, fewer obligations, cheaper flights and easier dinner reservations.

Everyone just wants to feel better, I get it, but resisting their campaign is a twisted part of coping with the season. I spent the week exchanging snapshots with friends in Mississippi, their mutt cavorting in the snow-covered yard (look how cozy!), my window-ledge pigeons shivering in New York’s 1.7 inches of slush (look how sad!). “We are not the same,” I told my friend Stu when he sent me Steven’s January essay, calling it the best he’d read all year. Another friend asked if I didn’t find the cold and snowfall moody and melancholy, in a good way.

I wanted to reply with Roz Chast’s 2018 New Yorker cover, “Cruellest Month,” which depicts a January advent calendar of horrors, each day drearier than the last (Jan. 7: “Sunset at 11 a.m.”). I wanted to make my case about how impossible it is to get anything done when there’s so little daylight, how stiff and clenched people get when rushing to get back indoors. It’s a case that the poets have been making for eons: “Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold,” Shakespeare wrote. “Hideous winter,” he called it. “Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness everywhere.”

But aren’t I the one who’s been listening on a loop to the saddest song I’ve encountered in ages, Feist’s “Hiding Out in the Open”? On the subway, the song on repeat, watching my fellow commuters in their hats and coats, wondering where they’re off to, what’s on their minds, I do feel moody and melancholy, and also connected.

You don’t get moody and melancholy and connected in the same way in July, when, “if you’re not happy, it’s your fault,” as another friend recently argued. “I like being inside. I like when people are inside. I like being inside with people,” she put it with finality. I couldn’t argue. I like these things too.

Debating one season vs. another is mostly trivial, a way to spar without stakes, a healthy if slightly tedious outlet. I want to be persuaded that these days aren’t just to be endured. I don’t want to be grumpy for 25 percent of the year, which is, I remind myself, 25 percent of my life.

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