Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Surviving Dead Week

It’s the middle of what some refer to as Dead Week, the week between Christmas and New Year’s. The day after Christmas officially kicked off the week, and I, for one, can hardly wait for January. I seem to have an ambivalent/love/hate relationship with these five days.

First, the ambivalence. I sort of resonate with Helena Fitzgerald and her recent article, “All Hail Dead Week, the Best Week of the Year.” This stretch of days has its own wonder, but it also has its dullness. There’s a certain flatness to it. Few, if any, know what to do with this leftover week, awkwardly stuck to the bottom of the year. It’s too early to start anything and too late to finish what was started. As Fitzgerald sees it, all our successes and failures from the previous year are already tallied up.

Dead week is a week when “nothing counts and nothing is quite real.” This blank space feels like “a long hangover” (not that I have experienced one, by I am dealing with the symptoms). There is an aimless quality to most things. We’re in this in-between where things are a bit out of sync. The decorations are still up, but the celebration has passed. I am ready to move on from telling Alexa to play Christmas Classics, but I am not quite ready to listen to Lord Huron Radio. Almost everything feels out of rhythm. Sleep is all over the map, and diets are completely screwed up. Given the holiday leftovers, the cookies and cakes lying around the house, the regimen of hot cereal and yogurt has given way to mindless grazing.

Second, the love. This week has all the makings of the hap-happiest season of all. The calendar is wide open, whispering –unwind, let go, loosen up, and relax. Take the wristwatch off. Who cares what time it is? And if you choose to seize it, this is the week to do those things you have not had time to do—like clean the desk, file the bills, rearrange bookshelves, or move furniture around. Exciting stuff. The great thing is that Covid and the weather have conspired with these days to make them really dead. You don’t need to go anywhere—you can’t go much anywhere. It’s not safe to drive on the roads or be near humans. Workouts are out because the gym opens late.

December 26-31 gives one permission to close up and shut down, chill out and settle in. It’s okay to fall into a pointless internet rabbit hole if you want. Go ahead and binge on Heartland if you are needing to feel good, or watch Jim Gaffigan’s latest pandemic sketch if you need a laugh. It doesn’t much matter if you keep wearing the same loungewear, skipping the shower, and taking a break from flossing. No one really notices. If you are two hours into the day, and you get drowsy, take a nap. In fact, consider going into a deep rest. Think of it as a sort of multi-day Sabbath if you need to spiritualize the week.

But then there is the hate. If your StrengthsFinder test has “Achiever” as one of your signature themes, then Dead Week can be a long slog. The days begin with zero and end with zero, and this is really unsettling. One begins to identify with Bill Murray’s angst in Groundhog Day. Tuesday looks a lot like Monday. Will it ever end? One is ready to drop a plugged-in toaster in the bath.

What’s maddening is that everyone seems to be gone, so kiss any email replies goodbye. And those who are out are sending pictures from Nassau and God knows where. Who can stand this? You might want to sit down and strategize and talk about future goals, but you will be talking to yourself. You know it is over when you find yourself looking at Bed, Bath, & Beyond ads and looking for what might be beyond. There’s just something profane about the week. It is a transgression against everything one holds to be noble and dear—like ambition and striving, pace and productivity. Some might find the week relaxing, but it feels like comfort food—the sort that keeps one in a state of bloated exhaustion—that intensifies the craving for more mental junk food. Ugh!!

Fitzgerald describes these five days as “the purest unit of nothing time that the year offers.” This “nothing time” is different from free time. It is not a vacation and not a holiday. Because we are afforded so little truly unmarked and nonurgent time—when nothing really matters—these days can feel even more precious. Please!!!!!

Okay, maybe she is right. We do spend much of the year receiving the message that we are supposed to try harder, do better, achieve more than the person next to us, rack up a bigger pile of stuff and a longer list of accomplishments. For once, as she puts it, “the insistent push to hustle and climb grows quiet, and there is a break from the screeching sense that every day must be optimized for efficiency…it is the only time I don’t feel like I am perpetually late to my own life, and that easing of guilt offers a deeper rest than any vacation would.”

Beautiful thoughts. Still, it’s only Wednesday, with two more days to go.

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