Making Peace with January

I was going to call this essay “Please, Shoot My Bul­let Jour­nal,” but then I got Covid and now I’m a Long-Hauler, which means I’m no longer con­ta­gious but have near­ly 20 symp­toms due to inflam­ma­tion, some, like fatigue, dizzi­ness, loss of appetite, and dif­fi­cul­ty walk­ing, migrat­ed from the orig­i­nal virus. Still with me? I promise, this is not a pity-party.


Back to the Bul­let Jour­nal. These became a big deal in 2016. Sud­den­ly every­one was buy­ing Leu­chit­turm 1917 dot-grid jour­nals and Pig­ma Micron pens, orga­niz­ing their busy lives with an old-school sys­tem devised by Ryder Car­roll. BuJo, to use the com­mon term, is part plan­ner, part diary, and com­plete­ly cus­tomiz­able, based on sim­ple sym­bols like cir­cles, dots, and squares, and unfin­ished tasks you migrate from one place to the next, yet you see progress. As a writer and sta­tionery junkie, I fell hard for Bul­let Journaling.

My sta­tionery craze dates to third grade when the insur­ance man came to our house. He kept his papers in a red vinyl fold­er I itched to steal. Years lat­er, after I became a pub­lished writer, I trooped to the Jan­u­ary 1987 meet­ing of my writ­ing group with my new DayRun­ner, and announced, “You must get one!” The oth­er mem­bers were 11 to 20 years old­er than me and up till then had been man­ag­ing their lives per­fect­ly fine. Yet I extolled the virtues of my amaz­ing orga­niz­er with enough inserts and charts to run Liechtenstein.

That day after the meet­ing, I learned my step­fa­ther, the man who raised me, had been sent home to die. There was no DayRun­ner insert to plan for the unknown weeks and months ahead.

In 2013, I turned to the Pas­sion Plan­ner, “a paper plan­ner to help focus on what real­ly mat­ters.” It had pages for 5‑year plan­ning, cre­ativ­i­ty, and room for dream­ing. I used Pas­sion Plan­ners, on and off, for two years, nev­er quite real­iz­ing my future. Next, I cre­at­ed my own plan­ner in a 3‑ring binder. Then I dropped into the Bul­let Jour­nal pit. I bought all the stuff — books, stick­ers, col­ored pens, a tem­plate so I could draw curly ban­ners. And that was my downfall.

I found myself look­ing at pic­tures of oth­er people’s beau­ti­ful jour­nal pages: flo­ral head­ers, art­ful Venn dia­grams — one per­son drew the books she’d read in a water­col­or book­case! I want­ed to do this, too, so bad­ly it made me unhap­py. Real­ly, my life isn’t that impor­tant. I hard­ly leave my house. As for cus­tomized cal­en­dars — menu sched­ules and lists of movies — how could I plan for the long year it took my broth­er-in-law to die, or last year when we learned my sis­ter has inop­er­a­ble can­cer? How could I pro­mote my two new 2021 nov­els — planned six months ahead of time — when my hus­band had an emer­gency quad bypass and two lung operations?

Each Jan­u­ary, I pull three books off my shelves: A Child’s Cal­en­dar: Poems by John Updike, illus­trat­ed by Tri­na Schart Hyman, Win­ter Poems, select­ed by Bar­bara Rogasky, illus­trat­ed by Tri­na Schart Hyman, and Hal Borland’s Book of Days. These books sit on the chest in our library, across from the water­fall dress­er dec­o­rat­ed for win­ter with hol­ly, pinecones, crow and buz­zard feath­ers under a tall glass dome, a gray fos­sil back­bone of an ancient whale, my love­ly Car­ol Endres rab­bits-in-the-snow framed print watch­ing over it all.

I sit in our library and read Updike’s words for “Jan­u­ary”:

The days are short,
The sun a spark,
Hung thin between,
The dark and dark.

I walk around inside Hyman’s illus­tra­tions and gor­geous bor­ders in Win­ter Poems, all fea­tur­ing her home, her neigh­bors, her pets, her fam­i­ly. I make peace with our most unloved month.

This year, Hal Borland’s Book of Days migrates upstairs with me to read dur­ing my after­noon rest and before bed. It’s a dai­ly jour­nal begin­ning Jan­u­ary 1, writ­ten from his farm in rur­al Con­necti­cut, meant to help him answer the ques­tions: Who am I? Where am I? What time is it? At 68, I ask those ques­tions, too. Borland’s entries mix mid-70s sci­ence with New Eng­land lore, his nat­ur­al obser­va­tions of the sea­sons with his own qui­et musings.

Jan­u­ary 6: Frost flow­ers fas­ci­nate me. They are relat­ed to frost ferns, those intri­cate pat­terns that formed on win­dow­panes before we slept in heat­ed bed­rooms. Frost ferns were indoor plants, cre­at­ed by the humid­i­ty in the room. Frost flow­ers are wildlings, out­door grows cre­at­ed by humid­i­ty in the starlight.

Ever since I bought this book for $10, new, in 1976, I’ve want­ed to be Hal Bor­land, to write about what I see and think about, not about what I did that day or should do tomor­row.  This feel­ing is strongest in Jan­u­ary. When I can walk bet­ter, I’ll go out­side to look for frost flow­ers made by starlight. When the strength comes back in my fin­gers, I’ll keep a real jour­nal and start answer­ing those questions.

10 Responses to Making Peace with January

  1. Melanie January 9, 2021 at 4:23 pm #

    I, too, am eas­i­ly seduced with new plan­ners. Per­haps I’ll try POETRY instead this year. ;0) Thanks for a love­ly essay. I wish you and yours good health in the com­ing year.….

    • candice ransom January 11, 2021 at 9:19 am #

      Poet­ry is an excel­lent idea! A poem a week is a doable plan! No – wait! Don’t think in terms of “plan,” just write!

  2. April Halprin Wayland January 10, 2021 at 1:43 am #

    Oh, Can­dice ~ I’m so sor­ry your symp­toms have con­tin­ued. I have expe­ri­ence with recov­er­ing from a long-term ill­ness. The most impor­tant advice I got from a doc­tor was to stay in the moment and not project how long it would last.

    What I real­ly want­ed, was a let­ter from the uni­verse telling me the exact date I would feel bet­ter. That let­ter nev­er came, but I did regain my strength, and I am grate­ful for good health dai­ly. Thank you for your hon­esty and for writ­ing so beautifully.

  3. candice ransom January 11, 2021 at 9:22 am #

    April: Oh, how I want a let­ter, too. Stay­ing in the moment – at this very moment in nation­al tur­moil – is hard, but I think you’re right. Per your doc­tor’s advice, sent my way by you, I’ll write my own let­ter and send it not just to myself, but to all who are sick with Covid, and sick at heart. Thanks for your good wishes.

  4. Heidi Hammond January 11, 2021 at 10:34 am #

    Thank you for your jour­nal arti­cle. Wish­ing you all the best dur­ing your recovery.

  5. Melanie January 11, 2021 at 10:40 am #

    Also, have you read WINTERING: The Pow­er of Rest & Retreat In Dif­fi­cult Times by Katharine May? I just fin­ished it and found it Very Help­ful and a love­ly read, to boot.

  6. Lois Bartholomew January 11, 2021 at 11:21 am #

    A love­ly essay. Thank you. I hope you soon recov­er completely.

    • Cheri Crow January 11, 2021 at 12:03 pm #

      Thank you all for such love­ly writ­ing, thoughts on plan­ner obses­sions (hap­py plan­ner for me), and inspi­ra­tion. I wish health and hap­pi­ness for you all.

  7. Rae McDonald January 11, 2021 at 1:13 pm #

    First, I am send­ing huge air­waves loaded with well­ness wish­es. And, I know that your embrace of your favorite and inspir­ing and calm­ing words and images will help you heal. Is that not the won­der­ful rea­son why we write, read, draw? To touch the human spir­it, to uplift, to gar­ner and share a smile or share a strength or an intro­spec­tion is the great strength and gift of humankind. Savor the pages, gath­er strength, and let your cre­ative well refill. We are with you.

  8. margaretsmn January 11, 2021 at 2:39 pm #

    I’m so glad this post came back to me. I read it again. And I am feel­ing that ten­sion of want­i­ng to be high­ly cre­ative in my note­book which can be so crip­pling. A haiku a day may be more my speed. Thanks for point­ing out how pre­cious moments are and how­ev­er we write about them is OK.

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