If you’re reading this… we made it. A relentlessly difficult year, in which we were all forced to reckon with our life choices and circumstances as we rarely are, by having to spend so much time at home, with a drastically reduced social life, stripped of so many daily pleasures and distractions that soften that reckoning most of the time. But I’ve felt enormously grateful this year, and I don’t think I’m alone—grateful for my family, my relative security, and for the baby and the book that have kept me hyper-aware of every passing day. Oh, your pandemic passed in a fog of sameness? Mine was a bit more like trying to do long division while clinging to the back of a speeding truck. Either way, here we are at New Year’s Eve and all I have to say is, cheers. We made it to this arbitrary temporal marker, and I intend to drink a flock of champagne and zoom with as many friends in as many time zones as we can muster.
We’re also at the end of my favorite probably-fake Scandinavian lifestyle concept, romjul, which I read about a few years ago in a now-shuttered magazine desperate to find the new hygge. It’s (supposedly) a Norwegian word for the period between Christmas and New Year, and seems essentially to be an embrace of its particular mixed feeling of sluggishness and restlessness. More generously, it’s about reflection on what’s passed and the setting of intentions for what’s to come, but without any of the stiff-upper-lip, forced-march connotations of resolutions. In practical terms, it’s the usual stuff for surviving deep winter: getting out into nature during the daylight hours and lighting candles in the dark, eating and drinking plenty, and spending time with friends. (I recommend the phone if you are sick of screens. It’s a little-known function of the device you may be holding right now. Got a funny sort of bent bone-shaped icon, like a handle, though for who knows what? Try it out!)
And yes, like all the advice for surviving winter, or lockdown, or illness, or all the above, it’s infuriatingly obvious. Drink water, take walks, feed yourself, talk to people, don’t overdo it, sleep in your bed not on the couch, read books, clean your teeth. This I think is what is the most annoying part of all this, for those of us who have all been taught to believe that Adversity will Teach Us New Things. Adversity is incredibly dull, and so is anxiety, and they don’t lead to revelation, except of the dullest kind. We know all this already. Yet we have such a novelty bias that we keep hunting for the new thing, impatient for spring. But it’s a long way off, and if you live in a cold place it’s going to be stew and snow boots and mulled wine and low sunshine and chunky sweaters and stupid television and chocolate and magazines and naps and thermals, for a while yet. And if not resolutions—who has the energy?—it can perhaps be hopes, intentions, the spark of a new idea.
Relatedly, perhaps, I wrote a piece about self-help, way back in the summer, which was finally published this month at the TLS. It’s a review of two books about the relationship between self-help and literature, but more broadly about how and why we read, and (as always) a plea to read whatever and however the heck you want. I was also very kindly invited on the podcast to discuss it, so here’s that episode (apologies for the Stalin content.)
Otherwise, I am, like you, watching and thoroughly enjoying Bridgerton, perfectly judged nonsense for this time of year that I imagine was expressly cooked up in Shonda Rhimes’s romjul lab (appointed in my imagination with only the finest scented candles, cashmere, and spiked hot chocolate). And if you enjoy either Him With the Sideburns or Her in the Tight Yellow Dresses, please immediately dive deeper into Netflix and watch their other excellent projects: Crashing, a tragically short-lived burst of Phoebe Waller-Bridge pre-Fleabag brilliance, and the glorious Derry Girls.
Happy New Year, friends, and thanks for reading. My winter candle/mulled wine fund lives here, if you are feeling generous.
Please do reply and tell me what warm drinks are getting you through the season. And if you have recommendations for good walking boots or discount cashmere, do share.