The last time I posted anything on this blog, I was sitting in California drinking a Firestone DBA, probably in a t-shirt, glowing with post-run-on-the-beach-in-winter smugness. And now I’m sitting on my couch in yoga pants and a sweatshirt, with a giant box of tissues at my elbow, willing myself not to turn the heating on because if last winter’s gas bill was anything to go by, we can’t really afford to have the heating on.
We’ve become one, this couch and I. But now I’ve run out of “quirky independent comedies with a strong female lead” on Netflix and I have that antsy-ness that comes when you’re on the cusp of feeling better but not quite feeling better yet. It’s in this state that you might start to think that going for a run is a good idea, or that a few beers will heal you completely, but then you’d get your sports bra on and collapse on the bed in exhaustion, or a few sips into a pint and start wishing it was juice.
Anyway, we came back from California on new year’s eve. We landed in the morning, disoriented and buzzing. While we waited for his father to pick us up from Heathrow we sat and drank coffee and talked at each other, about the films we’d watched when we should have been sleeping, about the Instapaper-ed articles we’d read, and about the things we’d do this week, this month, this year. And then we got home and crawled into bed and slept for hours, until it was dark outside and the rain had ceased.
On new year’s day we went for a walk, just as it was turning dusky outside. It’s becoming a tradition, this particular kind of new year’s day walk: I suggest it, he protests but ultimately agrees, and then he complains for the entire length of the Iffley Road. The complaining makes him feel better, and me a bit more subdued, so that ten minutes in we’re both in a similarly mellow state. This year, like most years, it was misting and the sky was ice blue. I put my hood up to keep the rain off my face. I wore two sweaters and a heavy winter coat. “See?” I said. “Isn’t this fun?”
“This kind of walking is pointless,” he said.
“What kind of walking has a point?”
“Well,” he said. “If we were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro…”
“Which is actually something I wouldn’t mind doing someday,” I said, half serious.
“Me either,” he said, half joking, and I remembered that after he asked me to marry him he’d said, “I’m sorry we weren’t somewhere spectacular, like the top of Mount Kilimanjaro,” which I thought was funny, and then a few days later, at a dinner, some family friends told us about their daughter, who’d also recently gotten engaged. “They climbed Kilimanjaro,” they told us. “And he proposed at the top. It wasn’t a big surprise, though.”
On this particular pointless new year’s day walk Christ Church Meadow was almost entirely flooded. As we floated out past Merton, the bells began to ring and ring: 7500 changes to commemorate Merton’s 750th anniversary. The wind felt wild, and the streetlamps glowed a hot orange.
For a few weeks I still had tan lines from swimming in an outdoor pool, and a fresh resolve that comes from taking actual time off work, from thinking and assessing. The tan lines have faded now. The resolve is still there, somewhere. In a sense I feel that this has already been a long year. Already I have done things: I’ve started re-learning how to drive a stick shift, joined the local triathlon club so that I can go along to the coached swim sessions, gotten my first ever prescription for glasses, booked a trip to Berlin, filed my tax return weeks early, cleaned out the garden shed. Last year feels blurry and far away. It doesn’t feel big, or momentous, though I guess big, momentous things happened: Book published. Got engaged. But it sort of felt like those things – nice as they are – were really just the start of something. Like the sum of last year is the building blocks for a slower, subtler, more meaningful change.
I took my time over resolutions this year. I don’t really do them – not in the insidious women’s magazine sense, anyway (“Take myself out on a date once a week. Lose that pesky five pounds. Be more accepting of who I am.”) But over the last few years I’ve taken to jotting down a few notes for myself at the beginning of each year, to varying degrees of prescriptiveness. This year I ended up with just one thing. It’s vague, maybe more like a mantra than a resolution, but I was feeling vague at the time, and vaguely excited, and anyway vague can nurture lots of smaller, more specific things.
Next month is my birthday month, so in a sense I always feel like the start of the year really comes in March. January and February are punctuation marks – the pause between the frenetic end of one year and the we’re really plunging in now start of the next. For the duration of that pause we’re still half-frozen. We sit in our cold front rooms, looking at the weary floorboards, playing games with ourselves to avoid switching the heating on, listening to the incessant rain beating the windowpanes, wondering when, when, when will it be lighter out? I don’t mind the cold as much as the light, though I’m no great fan of the cold, either – it’s just that I can bundle myself up, insulate against a biting wind, whereas there’s no antidote to the gloomy grey days that end sharply at 4:30pm and become long black nights. No antidote except to wait. And anyway sometimes even the misery of a cold can be a kind of pleasure. I watch six films in one day and don’t feel guilty. I feel sorry for myself, but I don’t feel guilty. “Go ahead,” he tells me. “Feel sorry for yourself today. You’re sick. You’re allowed to feel sorry for yourself.” And I am, so I do, and it makes me feel better, and less sorry for myself.