#13. Winter Doldrums
Here we are, stuck the middle of Meh-bruary.
Even though it was been colder than should be legal, I went out and did a bunch of socializing last weekend. At a few gatherings of glasses-y, writer-y types, people were abuzz about New York Magazine’s recently-published modern etiquette guidelines. These rules, in my opinion, are a fun blend of useful suggestions for how to behave, things to disagree with and continue doing the opposite of, and personal stressors that the writers are treating as universal.
Rule #1 for example is “You don’t have to read everyone’s book.” which is such a niche way to lead off, it really shows who the target audience for this feature is. Unless all or most of your friends are professional writers, you are probably not in a situation where SO MANY people in your life are writing books that you can BARELY KEEP UP. Many people in my life read lots of books, but it would not occur to them that almost anyone expects them to read a book they wrote, never mind everyone. The phrasing of “everyone’s book” rather than “every book” speaks to such a small sliver of readership that maybe this rule was better left in a group text. Unless, of course, by “everyone” the writer meant “everyone on earth” in which case I wholeheartedly agree. You are not obligated to read every book by every author. Am I fully playing into NY Mag’s hands by devoting precious (lol) word count to their intentionally provocative article? Yes! And I’m fine with it! It’s fun to get caught up in the fightgeist (the public cultural argument of the moment) sometimes!
No one asked me for input, but my one rule of thumb in thorny social situations is always: “What would a person do?” I find that in most instances, asking myself that provides almost all of the perspective I need to start making a decision.
“What would a person do?” simply means “How would a reasonable person act in this situation?” You want to text someone after a date but it’s only been an hour. What would a person do? Probably if it was a good date, they would, and it would be fine! But also if you waited until tomorrow, that would be fine too! That’s how people mostly are! Is it okay to show up to Thanksgiving Dinner with an unannounced +1? Hmmm…seems like even a pretty flexible person might be annoyed by that. Maybe don’t impose even if you know the host has extra chairs somewhere.
This rubric is less about making the best possible choice from a set of options and more of a way to get yourself out of your head. If you’ve never heard of a person acting this way before, it’s likely you’re being ridiculous. Alternatively, if an action is normal, but you’re worried for some reason you are uniquely weird or bad for doing it, maybe tell your brain to shut up and be regular.
That’s my new etiquette guideline. Ask yourself: What would a person do?
Okay! Time for the quilted quicker pepper-upper…Bounty. (?????)
WINTER DOLDRUMS PEP TALKS FOR READERS
It’s early February, and days are getting longer, but they’re still pretty short. The weather is getting warmer but it’s still pretty cold. We’re right on the cusp of “how is winter so long?” and “spring may be coming soon.” It’s not time for hope things will get more pleasant soon, but maybe it’s time to have some hope for some hope in the near future. I asked my Twitter followers if anyone needed a Winter Doldrums pep talk, and these are the results. As usual, I condensed some sentences a little based on my personal whims.
I just moved out of my family’s home into an apartment by myself and have been having a very hard time with it. With the pandemic and my mom battling cancer at the same time, the last two years have been very intense and only brought my family closer together so it’s been very hard to be separated from them, even though A) it’s time and B) I only moved about a half hour away. Any sort of comforting words would be appreciated to help in some small way while I adjust to this new normal.
- Cris (she/her)
In addition to the specific hardships you’ve been through and the closeness of your family, the difference between something being thirty minutes away and zero minutes away is SO HUGE. A footlong tuna sandwich at Subway now costs $8.50. The same sandwich used to cost $5, and not even back in olden days when everything was black and white. But Subway realized that they can bump up the price because what they are offering is a sandwich you can (technically) eat RIGHT THE HELL NOW (even though an Irish court recently ruled that their bread doesn’t actually qualify as bread). If you have to pee real bad, thirty minutes is an eternity. That’s right there in Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. In many contexts, half an hour is a long time!
What I mean to say is, even though your family is just an episode of Big Bang Theory (including ads) away, this change is significant. It’s okay to feel weird about it for a while, even if you know intellectually that you were right to make this change. The human brain contain so many wrinkles, and within those wrinkles we hold a capacity for nearly-unlimited contradictions. We can know something is good but still feel that it’s bad. What the fuck, brains?
Over a long enough time, your new situation will stabilize. You’ll figure out how to see your family as much as you want while enjoying your own space. Eventually, thirty minutes will even start to feel like nothing at all. You’ll make plans for an 8:30am breakfast with your family, forgetting the distance you have to travel, and then the night before as you set your alarm for 7am on a Sunday you will say a few quiet swear words under your breath. Your love will have stretched out to cover the distance and time, and Albert Einstein (that son of a gun) will have been proven right once again.
I’ve been in a real low rut this winter, struggling with my weight and body image (and trying not to let my inner millennial toxic masculine asshole mock me for feeling that way) and working to better myself. Therapy helps but laughter is even better sometimes
The intersection of body image and laughter is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately! As a Confirmed Bald Guy, I have been trying to make more jokes about other bald guys. Not because I want to distance myself from them, but because I feel strongly that it is my right! It is our right! Think about it like this: As a Jewish person, I can make jokes about being Jewish. As a native Boston(ish)ian, I can tease other Bostonians. But for some reason when I’m bald, other people get to make jokes about people like me, and I don’t? Fuck that! That’s not how this shit works!
I am truly an amateur out on a limb with this, but I think one of the weird things about body image is that we’re encouraged societally to identify with the bodies we’re taught to aspire to and not with the ones we actually have, so instead of feeling community with other people who look similarly, we are taught to feel shame. So we can be self-deprecating about our physical attributes, but aren’t allowed to engage in good-natured community building around mutual chops-busting. It’s so hard to disentangle our body image from what the world tells us, but I do feel like if we felt less shame and build more bonds around our, I don’t know, asymmetrical butt cheeks and freaky toes and adult acne and crooked postures, it would feel less bad to move through the world. (There is a huge chance that I’m wrong about this!)
In any case! Your human body is good probably mostly super useful to you in so many ways! Plenty of people are probably horny for it! And if you (or anyone reading) are interested in making it stronger and feeling a greater appreciation for your own physical capacity, I always always always recommend my friend Casey Johnston’s newsletter She’s A Beast (maybe I already have in a previous newsletter?). It’s technically about strength training but it’s also really great for anyone who moves around the world in a carbon-based, humanoid vessel. Check it out FOR SURE!
I just got the coolest job in the world but there are so many factors holding me back from really getting to experience how awesome it is, based on a lot of different factors - mostly because some of my coworkers are gate keep-y and awful.
Working in a toxic environment where I am unvalued and undermined and yet I am working as hard as I can (I have long covid).
- Longcovidpatientdoctor (i am a doctor)
These issues, to me, are so relatable! The people you work with play such a huge role in how enjoyable your job is. So many things can make a job annoying: the commute, the temperature of the workplace, the nearby lunch options. And the quality of your co-workers is way up at the top of this list.
You could work as a potato chip taster or massage-test-dummy, but if you have a boss who’s up your butt all day to taste potato chips faster or receive massages while you’re off the clock, every day will be kind of a slog. Meanwhile, if you have kind, hilarious co-workers at the gasoline-smelling factory, you’re probably still not going to want to stay there in the long term, but you won’t dread every day until you find a new job. (Apologies for excluding any weirdos who love the smell of gasoline and control freaks like me who do not enjoy massages.)
It’s so unfair that most of us have to have jobs, and some loser we’d never choose to hang out with can just show up there and make every day worse for us!!! But here is some pep: You are doing your best, and that is something that you can feel good about even if other people don’t care! Lots of people (at work and other places) do appreciate you for your humanity and expertise! You are more than your job! And, if your workplace is full of chumps and chodes (not to chode-shame), maybe at least in the moment it’s okay to admit that it’s not as dreamy a dream job as you’d thought, and it’s okay to let go of that ideal for this specific situation!
Fingers crossed that you either outlast the jerks, or that you find an exit strategy to a place where people offer you more high fives and fewer unsolicited criticisms.
I’ve been trying real hard to be a professional sports mascot. I worked for the royals a little, but choosing acting in college instead of getting experience as a mascot seemed to doom me in an extremely insular job field. I finally got an audition to be Phang the Philadelphia Union mascot after like 6 interviews over two years and I don’t think I got it because once again they want some one with more experience at a job that has proven super difficult to get. I’m 35 now, I don’t think I have the athleticism to keep trying for this job and it bums me out. It’s a scheme I don’t want to give up at a job that I believe I’m so uniquely perfect for, but reality does set in.
Now this is a specific pep talk request. To everyone else, thank you for writing. But to K., thank you for blowing my mind.
While I was attending Brandeis University, the team name was the Judges, and the mascot was Ollie the Owl (a bird holding a gavel). I knew at least two people who wore the Ollie suit at athletic competitions and other mascot-appropriate events. They both swore me to secrecy about their double life as an Ollie. For some reason, protecting their real identity was very important, like they were Clark Kent. (Although, honestly, Superman could probably have just been like: “I’m Superman. What’re you gonna do about it, you slobs? Kiss my alien ass and stay mad.” Right?)
To the best of my knowledge, neither of my college mascot friends has ever mascotted professionally after graduation. Although, there is a chance that maybe they have in secret, but they both have other jobs and kids and stuff, so from a schedule management point of view, it seems unlikely. They aren’t even able to fly around the world so fast it reverses time.
You can’t change how you’ve spent the past! And you can’t be sure of the future! All you can do is apply yourself to your goals in the present! I bet you would be great at this job. And I bet there are so many other things you’d be great at too, maybe even some that scratch the mascot itch. (God, I bet mascots are SO ITCHY in those suits.) But, thanks to your effort, one of two things is guaranteed to happen: 1. You will secure one of these positions at long last! 2. You will not, but you’ll have given it your best shot and literally left it all out on the field.
I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble breaking into this insular world through what I’m going to call “the felt ceiling.” I am well-acquainted with the feeling of being on the other side of a locked door from your dreams, when it seems like keys have been handed out arbitrarily. It is immensely frustrating. Good luck breaking through this barrier! You are dedicated and diligent and capable! But, if the obstacles eventually prove insurmountable, congratulations on giving yourself an honest chance at success, and good luck finding a new horizon to explore!
PICK-ME-UP SONG: Belle and Sebastian - “Late Developers”
Belle and Sebastian’s music famously sounds the way Wes Anderson’s movies look. Precious and ornate, impeccably composed, and a little much for some people’s taste. This song is, well, exactly that. There’s a horn section and an organ and oh yeah a fuckin’ choir. They’re really going for baroque.
“Late Developers” is one of the B&S songs where subject matter actually matches the bright sonic tone. Some of them are like that, and others sound like the theme song to a children’s show about a talking goat who plays soccer, but the lyrics are all about how beauty fades, and how a mirror is the only honest painting or some other psyche-demolishing truth (over trumpets).
Shout out to the brilliant and beautiful Maris Kreizman for playing this song for me (and our dog) even though I hadn’t given this album a real shot (yet).
UPCOMING TOUR DATES
If you want me to come to a city I haven’t been to in a while, let me know!
2/8 - Helium in Philadelphia
2/16 - Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me live taping in Chicago
3/5-3/12 - JoCo Cruise
More info and dates available at joshgondelman.com/schedule!
Okay! That’s all for now! Thanks for reading! And as always, if you enjoyed the newsletter, please subscribe and/or share it with a pal!
I wrote about doldrums this week too!
My solution is twofold. (1) Make up elaborate stories and new traditions for this time. (2) Co-opt any old traditions to which you have a semi-reasonable ancestral claim. (In addition to having a badass goddess to worship instead of a groundhog at this time, the British Isles also have boxty, which seems good, and the French have crepes, which are obviously great.)
Also, I'm glad that I'm not the only person who can't stop thinking about that NYMag piece.
Have you *seen* the kinds of things people do?