Last February 1, I was on a fourth date with a guy I was still sussing out, eating chicken wings so fast I couldn’t taste them and pouring beer into my gullet at what must have seemed like an alarming rate to a man who barely knew me. I’d spent January as a sober vegan, trying on a shiny, better self than the rumpled, messy one I wore in December. A person who didn’t eat animals and never playacted surprise to an empty apartment upon discovering I’d actually finished a bottle when I said I was just having a glass. The veganism and even the sobriety weren’t really the product of any real passion for either. They were about auditioning for a better role, performing self-control for an audience of one.
But on February 1, I was who I had always been, covered in wing sauce and a little bit drunk. Which is fine. My colleague Megan Reynolds says we should get rid of January altogether, along with the internal pressures it brings to alter our actual selves in mostly futile attempts to become the people we’re convinced we should be. Decemberette is what she dubbed this rebranded January, a month where nothing matters.
This January, having learned nothing from over three decades of failed Januarys, I bought a Hobonichi Techo planner. I was going to use it not to plan, but to take note of what I did all day. In 2019, days seemed to become liquid, entire weeks draining away as I struggled to dam up the leakage, starting and quitting essays and novel drafts—anything to prove I was not simply letting time slip past me. With the planner, I was not going to be better, I was going to remind myself that I am probably fine.
The first week is very detailed: a yellow sun for the time I woke up each morning, a pink dot indicating blogs I wrote, blue for longer essays and features, a footprint beside the distance I walked, a page count for books I read, ideas for future long form pieces. I drew each vegetable I ate, and marked my bedtime with a little blue moon surrounded by stars. And though I started the journal as a means of proving that I was okay, the more I tracked the more competitive with my own self I became. The planner evolved into a worklog for my own end-of-month accountability review, and I began obsessively tracking how much money I spent, how much writing I did, how many pages I read, becoming my own micromanaging boss.
At first, it felt good, like I was finally getting somewhere in this push to be the person I’d like to be by acknowledging that I was already, partially, that person. Just a little internal review would nudge me to optimal efficiency, I told myself. But then, the next week gets more sparse. The little sun repeats itself in the 6:30 section, a few, but not all of the posts I wrote appear, a few questions I had en route into the women’s march are listed in my ideas column. One day just contains a drawing of two tacos. This week is blank.
Once again, I got so excited about the possibility of finally crossing the finish line of personhood that I overwhelmed myself and quit the whole race. But in Decemberette, a guilt-free black hole between the hedonism of December and February, the month where the new year settles and gets on with the day-to-day business of simply being an arbitrary marker of time, just like the one before and the one before that, the blank spaces in my planner are not an indictment of my character. They never happened.
On February 1, the guy I ate the wings with last February 1 and I will eat something else together, maybe see a movie after. I can draw the tacos or the wings or whatever above a little film reel and the title or I can not. Either way, it’s fine. I am the same adequate yet not optimal person I was on December 31. Everyone who tried meatless January and decided to stick with it, along with everyone who started and didn’t finish, is also probably fine. Decemberette is a time for attempting, probably failing, forgetting, and moving the fuck on. February 1 is the day 2020 really begins. Please resume normal activities.