A Letter to Anyone (Like Me) Still in a New Year’s Funk
This letter is late by two weeks. I always write an editor’s note at the beginning of the month, but these past two weeks I couldn’t get my act together. I have the January funk and I wonder if you do too? Instead of pretending that I have an inspired take on healthy cooking for you today, it feels so much better to be real, to be honest about what feels like an absolute inability to partake in the myth of the new year.
I rolled into the new year feeling like a ball of wrapping paper, crumpled by family travel, the making of holiday magic, some private sadnesses of people I love, and — most of all — the unexamined expectation that this was not only a new year, but a new decade, and therefore I could expect a magically clean and reset life. One where my December laundry is put away, my inbox is swept, and I in some alternate timeline had a day to organize the pantry, make a double batch of granola and schedule my kids’ doctor appointments. Ha, haha.
It’s tedious to complain of busyness but it’s the noise we live with that we don’t even hear. We’re all so used to the inner mountain of expectations and needs, and food is just one of them. I ran from holiday to birthdays to travel to work, and I’ve barely cooked this year. I end my work days with some version of this text to my husband: “Will start bath for kiddos! I have NO dinner plan!!”
If you feel like you started the year with no plan, welcome to the club. The “new year, new you” narrative does us all a disservice by emphasizing the “new” more than the “you.” We carry ourselves and our baggage and messy minds and worries straight from year into the next. For me and many people I know, 2020 got off to a slow, tough start. (And that’s just personal; let’s not even talk about the looming dread of this year’s political drama and the global news cycle that gets more heartbreaking every day.)
But, I had a dinner with friends on Sunday night, and for the first time in 2020, by taking time away from kitchen-laundry-work-meetings-children-bedtime I found an unexpected moment of quiet. It wasn’t the food itself (pragmatic takeout!) but the sharing of it. The reduction of choice, the decision to not do other more productive things in the interest of being together with friends and sharing ourselves, our present anxieties and hopes.
I hope what I am going to say to you does not sound like one more rote cliche of how important eating together is. But — it is. It is so restorative and good to sit down with people, to get out of your head and pretend your life isn’t at least 25% messier than you would like, but you’re going to order pizza and choose to be with a friend or your sister or just your kids on a Saturday night.
This is no pat answer, no simple way to solve the burnout we seem to meekly accept and even embrace as the cost of our lives. But there are a few things like this that have been reminding me to be gentler to myself, and of the fact that a quiet life is a good life. Cooking is a necessity for feeding ourselves, but it’s a gift when we enjoy it too, when we suddenly feel like we have the space, time, and emotional headway to not just make fuel but to nourish ourselves and maybe even set a table for fellowship.
In the past four weeks I’ve had a few pieces of quiet that floated through my email, Instagram feed, or conversation that made me feel openhearted enough to cook from a space of freedom, or to remind me to resist my own busyness.
- 50 ways you may be overfunctioning for others without realizing.
- Julie Jones’ beautiful baking and stories of her mother.
- Anne Helen Petersen’s email newsletter is my weekly favorite, especially her excavation of our current burnout. Still thinking about this: “Busy-ness fosters a perception that the only way you can possibly survive is through convenience.”
- “Who are you without the doing?”
- I think the happiest I’ve been in the kitchen this year learning how to make fried chicken. You guys, this recipe is too good not to share.
- This Weary Minute strategy is not just for hiking, and not just for kids!
- Cardamom buns! Paris! A little romance for January, h/t Judy Kim.
- Jenny Schatzle’s viewpoint on health and movement has been inspiring me ever since we featured her in The Way We Eat and this post actually made me buy new shoes and schedule a daily walk.
- We gave my mother-in-law a subscription to Storyworth for Christmas and her responses each week have been new family treasures, capturing memories of her childhood we’ve never heard.
- Two moments of letting go, one for those who vibe Jesus-y and one for those who just need a word from Lucille Clifton.
- Always the best reminder for January.
And, yes, in case you think, wait isn’t this a food site and where are the recipes? let me tell you: we have some whopping good ones this month. But the thing I’m really excited about is our series, running now, My Healthy 2020, where we talk with twenty very different people, about their twenty very different eating lifestyles — each of which brings them joy and health and a sense of power. Health is first and foremost what makes you feel free, and this series celebrates that in all its diversity. Whether it’s the sober bartender, the brand-new mom doing Whole30, or any of our other folks, I hope you find some inspiration for 2020 in their stories.
Happy new year. Happy old funk. Let’s just live in it and see what happens. I hope that you find, eat, and share good things this month. We’re all in it together!
Yours in January and all its ragged edges,