January is a right old fag-butt of a month. I’ve puzzled about it before: why we start a new year in mid-winter, when everything feels like it’s ending.
I think it’s because beginnings can be deathly hard. A fact we try our best to leap over, each new year, with our frenzied leaf-turning, our go-get-em #goals. But we don’t need to swallow the Shiny New Ass™ detox teas being rammed down our throat. There is so much more to January than snatching after fresh starts.
January is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god of thresholds, who looks forwards and backwards at the same time. (Skills). January turns to the past, as much as the future. It’s the doorway month: it sees where you’re coming from, as well as where you want to go.
My January started in an unusual place. In December, I ran 5 miles every day to raise money for the Bone Cancer Research Trust. 31 days straight, 176.4 miles in total. (Me! As if!) My 2019 ended on a tide of others’ generosity, a wave of unbelievable kindness. (Thank you to everyone who donated and cheered me on, you extraordinary lot. I can’t tell you how much it means.)
To begin 2020 full of awe at people’s goodness is a lovely thing. As is knowing an underfunded cause has more cash for vital research and support. But the truth is, I wish I’d never, ever needed to raise a penny. I ran in memory of my cousins’ cousin, Abe Vincent. Abe died of bone cancer five years ago, in January 2015, aged 21, his life ending as the year started.
Some beginnings feel like the end of the world.
Two-faced January is a good time to practise seeing things in double-vision. To realise how life braids grief and love, triumph and failure, freedom and loss. The philosopher Nietzche was obsessed with this: how suffering and joy grow tall together. How, if you spend your life cringing away from pain, you’ll only ever end up with a tepid sort of contentment. He believed you can only experience fierce happiness if you’ve experienced deep sorrow.
It’s as if those comedy and tragedy masks are fused, one carved onto the back of the other, Janus-like. Things fall apart; we all die in the end, says tragedy. We are silly and brave; love wins out, says comedy. Life shows us that both are true at once, all the time.
We can really feel this, in hungover January, where the year swallows its tail. January is all Samuel Beckett, or me on a run: ‘I can’t go on. / I’ll go on.’
January is a good time to slog away at the work of beginning, to wrestle the end of one thing into the start of something new. To open up the file, the screen bright in the dull grey day. Jump to where the blankness waits, and, cursor blinking, start to write.