The Shape of a Woman's Year

A new year is a gift, a small piece of infinity, to do with as we will.  Things happen. We grow (we hope), and we learn willy nilly.  Life moves around us, life moves through us to others, and the year gradually accepts its pattern. We give, we take, we resist, we flow.       

--Jean Hersey, The Shape of a Year (1967)

“No two years are ever alike, no two Januarys,” Jean Hersey reassures me in her lyrical countryside book, The Shape of a Year written exactly fifty years ago from her Connecticut house “set in a meadow bounded by a rushing brook and hills covered with maples and hemlocks.”  She tells me about “her neighbors, her husband and their visiting children and grandchildren; about winter nights by the fire with books and handiwork, summer days in the garden or on the non-too-distant beach; music to make or listen to; seeds to plant and harvest, birds at the feeder in the woods; icicles freezing outside the window and orchids blooming inside.”

This my kind of escapist literature, although Mrs. Hersey wrote her personal narrative as a natural studies memoir.  Her publisher (Charles Scribner) describes her as an “obviously happy person and this is a happy book,” which in my personal experience usually means a book written for too little money and in too little time.  Too much cheerful makes me a tad suspicious.  Still, any book that begins in January always has my rapt attention because they possess a sassy style about them and high octane optimism.

Yes, the weather outside is frightful, but we can bundle up and make an entire snow family in the backyard and then, sip a mug of hot cocoa while Mother (or Nana) prepares tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.  Then we’ll have a “lovely cozy” (much needed nap in grownup lingo).

You might not have caught on by now, but I am a seasonal gal.  Neil Sedaka once wrote a song describing me as his “Calendar Girl” (not really about me) but I bopped to his catchy tune in my wonder years and still do.  And here is a wonderful life lesson:  While you can take the woman out of the seasons, you cannot take the seasons out of the woman.  Love them all, don’t you?  Love each month’s syncopated rhythm.  Love the snowflakes, the valentines, the shamrocks, the Easter eggs, the Maypole, June’s strawberries, July’s fireworks, August’s hammocks, September’s yellow socks and plaid lunch boxes, Octobers pumpkins, November’s turkeys and December’s festive frenzy and convivial chaos.  And before we know it, another new year arrives.  If this is true for you, too, then blessed are we among women.

Have you ever given much thought to approaching the New Year as a natural template for re-jigging your personal perspective on the year ahead?  Jean Hersey suggests we try and it makes a lot of sense to me.

“The Season of Winter:  January brings us a new year, crisp and fresh and white…February is blue ice and deep snow…March is restless and wild and windswept…These are the months when our lives are lived largely within four walls, under a man-made roof, and snugly protected against wind and weather.  Intermittent forays into the world of nature are brief and when we venture forth we are bundled in heavy clothing against the elements.  How we welcome our warm homes again! Short days are followed by long evenings of glowing fires, of books and pleasant conversations into the night.  On the wildest of storm days we find ourselves dreaming of next summer’s vacations or perhaps planning special garden features and delving into the provocative seed catalogues.  This is a time for dreaming.  All through these weeks there is an undercurrent of anticipation, a waiting, an expectancy, a preparation.”

What are you anticipating?  Is it something that brings an immediate smile, just the thought of it?  Is it a dream?  Or have you abandoned dreaming in the past few years?  It takes so long to birth an authentic dream, but I know if this is the point you’re ready to give up, let me ask you to hold on just a little longer.  Your dream wants me to remind you that especially when we can’t see anything in the outer world, especially when we think that Heaven and our dreams have abandoned us, neither is true. Your dreams are now sending slender shoots up through the cold, hard dark earth, up towards the frozen surface and if they’re not discouraged, you can’t be either.

Babe, that’s why I’m here. I will never let you give up on yourself or your dreams.  And you know what?  I know that you’re never going to let me give up on mine.  That’s our sacred pact and I am so grateful for your good company.

So what are you waiting for in 2017?  Are you expecting the best or steeling yourself for the worst?   And if it’s the worst, or you have stopped believing, turn away and turn off the insidious 24/7 Breaking News cycle.  Go cold turkey.  Start reading only uplifting books or visiting websites that make you feel better.  You don’t need to know what is going on “out there” until you discover “what’s in here.”
We need reassurance and optimism.  I know this might sound crazy, but I’m beginning to read Simple Abundance once more.  Writers will tell you, if they are honest, that we are continually astonished by what once poured out of us on to the page. Who is this woman? is usually my response when I peruse the pink book.   I think she maybe on to something. Hey, putting blinders on worked for me once and shifted my focus towards only the good and brought a complete change to my life. Twenty years later, I’m so ready for that again.  How about you?

What are you preparing for in the next three months?  We all know that our repetitive patterns such as worry dig deep grooves in our imagination, draining us of our precious natural resources—time, creative energy and emotion. However, no month is more eager to help us break this destructive habit than January.  Traditionally this is the month we all swear to lose weight, cut back on drinking, start saving, increase our exercise for energy and get ourselves ready—but ready for what?  I want to do all of the above, but what’s more, I want to help myself prepare for a different kind of life—one where I’m not only reacting to difficulties and disappointments but actively creating new opportunities so I can choose to do what I love and surround myself with what makes me happy.  That’s our choice every day – re-act or cre-ate?

So I’m trying to shape my days as the year shapes nature.  “Nature also has drawn into herself.  The vitality of all that grows is no longer visible in leaf and flower, but lays hidden deep in the heart of seed and root.  Nature rests and restores herself, gathers her forces for the furious activity of spring and summer,” Jean Hersey explains.  “This is a creative hesitation like the pause in music between the notes that accents the tones and helps form the underlying melody—the basic shape of our year.”

January, February and March provide the perfect interlude to allow the Simple Abundance graces of Gratitude, Simplicity and Order work their magic in our lives again.  I know what they can do and I know I need to “do” them if I want my life to change.  There are big changes I’m yearning for in my personal life, professional life, creative life, family life, physical life. The whole shebang.  But I know that this means that I need to book-end my daily round with prayer, contemplation and learning something new every day and end it with the Gratitude Journal.  For today, this first day of this wondrous New Year I’m just grateful to start another January; to learn her secrets, how to be quiet enough to restore and renew myself, how to be receptive to receive her gifts.

So let’s peek into January together.  What do we see?

It’s dark past breakfast and dusk before supper.  Down flits the snow or the raining season has finally arrived.  Fragrant wood fires, fresh air, rosy cheeks, flickering candlelight.  Hunt and gather with me January’s joys—a playful snow walk, a seductive read, a luscious hot cup of chocolate cheer, a soothing soak.  Draw the curtains, turn down the bed, let golden light glow, then behind closed doors and frosted windowpanes, let’s gaze at the opalescent moon as bare branch beauties, wrapped in luxurious white cloaks and icy diamante, dazzle for our private pleasure.

So burrow in.  Snuggle deep.  Dream vividly.  A simply irresistible winter’s idyll awaits.  And you know what? There’s no time like the present.  This is the year of living passionately, Babe, because this is the year we finally learn, once again, how to live.

So Happy New Year, my darling friend!

Sending my dearest love to you and yours and always, blessings on our courage.