The longest shortest month of the year, February makes me wish time away — something most of us cease doing at middle age.
We’ve had 26 sub-zero mornings in Minnesota so far this winter. February is among the slowest months for local businesses; people would rather be keeping company with their screens.
Native Minnesotans are supposed to take the icy sidewalks and bitterly cold temperatures in stride. But I’ve eaten too much. Gotten off my running routine. And been too distracted and stir-crazy even to finish reading a book.
Enough. Spring starts in March, and I am holding myself to better habits, starting today:
1) Keep moving. I felt reborn the other day when I ran four miles along Mississippi River Boulevard with a friend I hadn’t seen in months. Yes, it was cold, but I know how to dress for winter running: layer your clothing, go lighter below the waist, wear a black Ninja hood to encase your head and neck.
The sun was shining. The conversation was lively. And I adopted her trick of thinking positive when the going got tough. Rather than “damn, this hill is steep” we’d exclaim to each other: “Look at the view!”
2) Gain perspective. The death of New York Times journalist David Carr on February 12 threw me, as it did many of his former colleagues. I knew Carr, barely, back in the roaring ’80s, when we both worked at MSP Communications. He chastised me once for wearing a campaign button in the newsroom. He swept through a party at my upper duplex in northeast Minneapolis, pronouncing that I had a “nice pad.”
I envied his self-confidence and single-minded ambition. I recognized his talent, even as I viewed it from a distance. I was never brave enough to travel in his pack.
Like others, I was shocked and saddened to read of his collapse. But I also personalized the news in a way that feels ungenerous, both to him and to myself. I didn’t think about the wife and daughters he left behind or his unfinished work in the world.
When I read about Carr’s globe-trotting career, the mark he made on his profession, and his canny ability both to overcome and capitalize on his addiction, I felt small by comparison. Just as I did back then. Only a year younger than he was when he died, I assessed my career and wondered what I have accomplished.
Weeks later — given time, perspective and a review of his candid, pragmatic interviews with Terry Gross on Fresh Air — I recognize that Carr would want his hometown coworkers to be not intimidated but inspired.
3) Build community. A couple of colleagues asked me in January to teach a weekly yoga practice over the noon hour, even though I hadn’t taught for more than a year. We meet in a drafty gym, with no music. We bring our own blocks and other props. We have a varying range of abilities.
And it’s become a high point of my week. They overlook my rusty teaching. I watch then bring courage and humility to the mat. We’re taking risks, and that helps us appreciate one another in a way that simply working together does not.
4) Just do it. I’m grateful for the discipline developed over decades in the workplace. You suit up and show up, even when you’d rather be somewhere else. “My whole life is have to,” Steve Martin declares in Parenthood, a spot-on film I saw the day I learned I was pregnant with my older son.
I don’t want to walk my dogs in the minus-zero wind-chill every morning. I don’t always want to visit my mother in the memory-care facility, or shop for groceries, or sort the boxes taking up space in our one-car garage. But I do it, because I have to. And because action is always preferable to riding the merry-go-round inside my head.
5) Write it down. On my best days, I see that obligation gives my life purpose. People count on me. I have a good job and a strong network of friends. I’ve built a family to care for and about.
On the harder days — which was most of sub-zero February — I start the day with a cup of coffee and a journal. Thirty minutes later, the world looks right again.
Then I haul out the long, black down coat and the boots that hold me upright on the ice — and I get on with it, whatever it is, because having places to go and people to see brings me one step closer to spring and beats the alternative of wallowing in the winter blues.