We are at a moment in American history when the full extent of harm caused by isms, especially racism and sexism, but also others such as ageism and ableism, is becoming apparent even to many of the perpetrators, as well as self-evident to the victims. Some of the racism and sexism is deliberate, but the rest of us are learning that even our seemingly innocent or positive comments can be understood by some others as demeaning and hurtful. Microaggressions, they are called.
And then there’s an obscure ism that has scarcely been noted before: monthism. It’s the scorn and humiliation suffered by unpopular months, and there’s nothing micro about it. The victims feel the full blast of criticism coming from the perspective of months that are supposedly superior.
It means — well, here’s my friend January, who is about to take his leave from us tomorrow:
“First of all, get my name right. I’m Janus, the guy worshiped by the Romans because he was wise enough to put things in context, to look both ahead and back. The month is named for me, so it’s January, but the being behind it is me, looking to the past and the future. And if you don’t think I’m substantial, just look at all the statues of me the Romans left behind. Calendar pages don’t feel pain, but a solid guy like me certainly does.
“In America, they don’t like cold and wet and icy, and so they complain about me. They forget about skiing and ice skating and snowballs and crisp clear blue skies. They complain about weather that makes them sit companionably around the fireplace, or that makes them wrap their necks in homemade scarves.
“Who’s ‘they’? They are all the people I have to listen to, during the full 31 days of the year I provide.
“The other months are worse. There’s pretty little April, celebrated by all those sentimental English poets like “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there” Robert Browning: Nothing like a “brushwood sheaf” being “in tiny leaf.” Thank goodness Mr. Eliot was able to observe that April was the cruelest month, and Mark Twain said of April 1: “This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other 364.” April is probably too smothered by tiny leaves to understand.
“But just when I’m about to get out from the burden of carrying the world from one year to the next, and this time maybe even imprinting in the minds of the perpetrators better knowledge of the harm of isms, out comes The New Yorker of January 29, with a cover depicting 31 windows of January with something disagreeable in each, like an Advent calendar in reverse. In the windows for the first six days the cartoonist, Roz Chast, writes:
1 hangover [whose fault is that?]
2 lose keys in snow
3 still January
4 bombo-genesis ?!?!?! [big new word for big bad storm]
5 slip on ice
6 knit self scarf
“It goes on like that, with entries that are entirely not my fault:
13 leave scarf on train
15 quarterly taxes due
19 through 21 flu [she didn’t get her shot?]
30 dentist [who scheduled that? not me!]
“I could go on and on, but then you’d complain, too. I rest my case. Goodbye, humans of North America, and good riddance.”