‘Spare me the gym and diet, at least until the sun rises before the alarm insists the day starts.’

Self important: Joseph Jones’ thought for the week

‘Nature is on the same side as the self-help books right now: all its best work is being done under the ground.’ | Photo: Brooke Lark / Unsplash.

If there were a Scrooge of January, I think I’d be expecting ghosts. The new year, damp and dark, doesn’t seem to me like a good time for resolutions. I have no energy for bursts of new activity. Spare me the gym and the diet, at least until the sun rises before the alarm clock insists the day has started. Bah. Humbug.

The poets sometimes agree (the joy of poetry, I find, is that there’s always a poet who agrees). ‘The governing dark’s begun’, says Hilaire Belloc: ‘Death, with his evil finger to his lip / Leers in at human windows, turning spy / To learn the country where his rule shall lie / When he assumes perpetual generalship.’ In Colette’s ‘month of empty pockets’ there is, to Anne Sexton, ‘no other day but Monday’ – these days that are ‘not worth grabbing’. Even if the sun does appear, ‘puddle after puddle / becomes mud’.

The self-help titles, which jump this month from their corner shelves to the bookshop’s offertory tables, insist otherwise. I confess cynicism. ‘You Are a Badass’ says one, promising the answer to ‘How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life’. I’m sure it helps someone but ‘How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person’ sounds like more fun… for June.

Honestly though, I think nature is on their side right now. All the best work is being done under the ground. Our god-of-the-month, Janus, understands all of this. Statued double-faced at the gate, looking backwards as well as forwards, Janus reflects and progresses. And there are books of advice on living which matter to me enormously. We Friends have a pretty good one of our own but I wish I could claim to have absorbed the whole of The Rule of Saint Benedict – even if just Rowan Williams’ summation of it: ‘Be nice to annoying people and do the washing-up.’ This self-help is other-help – but self-help all the same.

Again the poets chime in. In January, go inward ‘to look at the red, wagged root’, says Dylan Thomas. ‘There is your world within’ adds Gerard Manley Hopkins. But it isn’t enough just to look: ‘There rid the dragons, root out there the sin / Your will is law in that small commonweal.’


Also suppressing my cynicism this January is our appointment of Gill Sewell and Olivia Sewell Risley as the new editors of the Friends Quarterly. They introduce themselves on page eight. Tony Stoller will be a very hard act to follow – he leaves with our deepest gratitude and best wishes – but I’m confident that the next stage in the journal’s long life will be another good one.

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