Today is the first business day of February. This isn’t an easy month—or an easy season—for many of us. (Although January gave me such a beating this year I think that surely February has to be a little easier. This must be what it looks like to tempt fate.)
I know I’m not alone in my winter struggles. To beat back the gloom, today we’re sharing the things—big or small—that are saving us right now.
The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful memoir Leaving Church. In it, she tells the story of how once she was invited to speak at a gathering, and when she asked what she was to speak about, her host told her this: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”
It’s a good question. Most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, if asked. But few of us pay attention to what’s giving us life. The question invites you to do just that.
Taylor says it’s too good a question not to revisit from time to time, and I agree. We have been revisiting it here, for six or seven years now, always at the halfway point of winter.
Friends, this was HARD for me this year. Our purpose here isn’t to enumerate what’s killing me right now, although I know the answer: my family has been sick nonstop since Thanksgiving, I’ve been pulled away for planned and unplanned trips, this season has been too full, with too little margin.
I’m tired. And in this context, I appreciated the call to pay attention to what’s bringing me life. For inspiration (and so as not to tell you the same things all over again, year after year) I spent the weekend looking back at all the posts I’ve written on this topic in the past. It was interesting to see how much has remained constant over time.
If my blog posts are any indication, it’s never an easy time of year. I’m always tired, and missing the daylight, and dealing with the flu.
And yet I didn’t realize until I saw it in print how often the same strategies and small graces help me survive the season: getting outside for exercise and fresh air, drinking buckets of hot tea, enjoying the occasional sunny day, buying fresh flowers from Trader Joe’s. (I was especially happy to see that one, for this reason.)
When I think about what’s saving my life this season, my mind is readily drawn to the foundational things: eating well (that is, not eating crap), walking the dog, going to bed on time, spending time with good books. You know: the usual.
But upon reflection—which is the entire point of the exercise, thank you, Barbara Brown Taylor, I can point to three unique things that are absolutely saving me right now.
1. Jigsaw puzzles. The summer before last, we hosted Marisa de los Santos in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club to discuss her novel I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. That was a wonderful conversation for many reasons, but in this season my thoughts keep circling back to her professed love of jigsaw puzzles.
When we talked to her in Book Club via video, we could see a giant bookcase full of puzzles over her shoulder. I couldn’t resist asking her about them, and she explained that they were a crucial tool in her novel writing process. When you’re working a puzzle, your mind feels like it’s occupied with the task in front of you—and yet by the time you put the puzzle aside, you discover your creative mind has made progress on its own problems, those of structure and plot.
Lately I’ve been turning to the puzzles not just because they’re fun, but because they’re helping me think, even on days when that feels difficult, or the problem at hand feels intractable. And since I’m also in the season of Don’t Overthink It publicity interviews, puzzles are also helping me regain my equilibrium when my introverted self is feeling all talked out.
(We just shared a huge list of great puzzles right here, go check it out!)
2. Taking the long view. This winter I’ve been having a lot of conversations about two seemingly unrelated things that are shaping my perspective on life: publishing timelines and college visits.
Traditional book publishing is notorious for its slow timelines. That means some of the authors you read and love are planning books now that won’t hit shelves for 7-10 years. Love it or hate it, publishing requires a long view. And love it or hate it, my kids are suddenly growing up really fast. I don’t love either one, most days, but I’ve grown strangely grateful that publishing forces me to think about my kids growing up in a different way.
The long view is also specifically helping me this February by showing me that every year I get walloped by winter sickness, and every year spring comes again and we get over it.
3. Friday coffee planning meetings. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ve taken something that used to be the chore of weekly planning and turned it into something I genuinely look forward to—and it feels like a huge win.
A change in habits, a change in mindset—these don’t seem like huge things, but they’re saving me.
***** ***** *****
What’s saving your life right now? Share your own blog or Instagram post below in the comments section.
P.S. Last year’s saving-my-life reflection (with a little help from Rick Steves), and my favorite and oh-so-timely post on what’s saving my life. Plus survival strategies for winter, my least favorite season.