Anyone who has ever written anything will relate to the fear a blank page can induce.
My 8 year old will certainly tell you, as he sat tethered to the chair during the Christmas holidays to write his thank you letters, about the overwhelming sense of expectation all that empty space can hold.
‘Just start with “thank you” son’ I say, unhelpfully. That would literally be it finished if he had his way.
But what about those of us who have more to say? What’s it like to type that first word of a dissertation, or a letter to a troubled friend? Or a new blog? What does the empty page that lies in wait hold for us?
January is the ultimate empty page. It’s a fresh start, a new leaf, a chance to start over. It’s time to join the gym, eat healthily, give up alcohol and stop shouting at the kids. We get the opportunity to reinvent ourselves every year. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
I love January. It’s become my favourite month of the year not least because it follows December. And December is my nemesis. The most wonderful time of the year has come to require the disposition of an elegantly gliding swan with a broken leg and a gammy foot. All the things to do, and they must all be done while looking like the Insta-ready perfectly smiling family. It really is all so wonderful.
In January, not much happens in school. Not much happens in work for me or my husband and no one in our house has a birthday. The kids have new toys to play with, there will be new stuff on telly (The Masked Singer, anyone?) and there are usually boxes of biscuits kicking around. What’s not to like, seriously?
A couple of years ago, my husband Mark and I went away for a couple of days, the first time without the kids, then 6 and 4. We rented a lodge in Loch Lomond, and left the grandparents to referee squabbles and negotiate exactly how much broccoli constitutes one mouthful. We sat on the sofa of our temporary home and found it extremely comfortable. We thought we should go for a walk or something, but neither of us showed any signs of actually moving.
The pauses between the unconvincing statements of intent to move were becoming lengthier until Mark sat up and turned quite deliberately to look at me.
‘We don’t have to do anything’ he said slowly.
I looked at him, carefully absorbing his words. ‘We don’t have to do anything’ I repeated, changing the emphasis just slightly.
‘We don’t have to do anything’. He was grinning by now, wide eyed as we both drank in the full implication of what we were saying. There was, quite literally, nothing we had to do.
Real, proper, bona fide down time doesn’t happen often for most people. I think our sanity lies in part in our ability to spot those moments when they happen; to understand the difference between things you have to do and things you choose to do. They are fleeting for many of us absorbed in the rat race of life, but they exist.
In my rose-tinted view of January, I don’t have to do anything. Of course, I do. People need to be fed, and have somewhat clean clothes to wear, most days. And then there’s a self-assessment tax return and some company accounts to take care of.
Marie Kondo takes up residence in my house in January as the urge to dispose of most of our collective possessions overtakes me. As for the fantasy January wish list that taunts me year on year; well, maybe one day I actually will paint the skirting boards and complete my children’s baby books. And by complete, you know I mean start.
If I get one thing ticked off my fantasy list every year, I’m happy. As the year crescendos once more to the busy life I seem, whether I choose it or not, to thrive on, I add still more to the list of things I will never accomplish in my fictitious January.
And the empty page? How’s it looking? Mark read recently that changes made in January are more likely to stick in the long run. Something about the intentionality of a new year’s resolution makes you commit more effectively than if you just wake up one morning and decide to be a vegan. I get that, I do.
But surely making major life changes in a still slightly traumatised, post-December state of mind isn’t such a fabulous idea. Return to normal first. Reset the equilibrium. Rest on an even keel for a while and enjoy the beautiful sunset. February. That’s the time for change to gradually, organically take effect.
So my page remains blank, very faintly watermarked with the pattern of years gone by. I am, for now, in the words of Mark Darcy, perfect. Just as I am.