Happy Holidays + Lennon Lessons
Another year over, a new one just begun.
Happy holidays, everyone!
How are you all holding up? I can’t believe the end of the year is finally near. My husband Rahul and I got our Christmas tree last weekend, which has made our apartment super cozy. In another time, I may have even described our sparkly, tree-filled living room as “so cozy, I never want to leave home,” but now that just feels cruel.
Oh there’s (actually) no place like home for the holidays...
Anyway! While I’ve always been a sucker for December in New York, today I want to focus on one particular week of the month, a week I’ve come to call “Lennon Week.” Lennon Week is a) a name I made up and b) exactly as the name implies: a weeklong celebration of the life of John Lennon. It takes place the week of December 8th, centered around the fact that he was shot outside his home at the Dakota on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on that day in 1980. Ever since I moved to New York when I was 22, I’ve felt especially connected to Lennon and his music around this time.
Most years, Lennon Week tends to speed right on by, the wonderful yet forgotten child of the holiday season. But this year, with no parties to go to and no fourth cocktails to regret the next morning, I was able to go all in on Lennon Week (it was last week). I spent waaay more time than usual reading all of the think pieces and revisiting his music again and again, which was even more meaningful this year because it was the 40th anniversary of his death. I stumbled across a lot of well-being wisdom while I was down that rabbit hole, so I thought I’d share some of the *Lennon lessons* that resonated with me, many of which are particularly timely today:
1. Isolation does not have to lead to productivity. When Taylor Swift released her first surprise quarantine album, folklore, back in July, the Internet went nuts, with people Tweeting about how Taylor dropped an entire album during the pandemic when they couldn’t even put on pants. And now that she has released her second surprise quarantine album, evermore? Forget about it. People are losing their minds over her accomplishments even more. She is the new queen of productivity, the 2020 equivalent of the Energizer Bunny—she just keeps going and going and going when many other people’s batteries seem to have died.
In early 1976, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono went into voluntary isolation at the Dakota for FIVE YEARS after the Beatles broke up, because he needed to rediscover who he was before he was one of them. While he’d already written the song “Isolation” in 1970, which was about the lonely and vulnerable life of being a pop star, this later isolation period was more intentional. He stepped away from life in the public eye so that he could finally live. Although he did end up going back to music, ultimately releasing a double album with Yoko in 1980 (just three weeks before his death), he spent the last half of the ‘70s primarily at home, chilling with his family and contemplating his place in the world. And that’s the message here: Isolation and productivity are not inextricably linked. Living a more quiet life may end up leading to productivity in the end, as it did for Lennon, but for the majority of his hiatus from public life, he was not writing songs, or on tour, or even going out in New York. He was just being. At the end of this long isolation period, he wrote a song about his slower pace of life, “Watching the Wheels,” which was released posthumously in 1981. Many now consider it the ultimate ode to inactivity:
“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go”
Of course, I know that taking life advice from a Beatle is not exactly on par with reality (no, stars are not “just like us”). And a voluntary self-imposed isolation is incredibly different from a global pandemic. But even so, Lennon’s choice to isolate and his poetic reflections on his self-imposed isolation are worth contemplating. Reminder: If you can, it is okay to let it be right now (sorry, had to). Just getting through the day and taking care of yourself and your loved ones is enough. Watching the wheels go round and round can be enough!
From The New York Times, December 8, 2020.
2. Seriously. Stop. Mindlessly. Scrolling. Believe me, I am guilty as charged on this one. I spend far too much time on Instagram, scrolling through post after post and watching Stories from influencers I’ve never even met. Yes, I know this is bad. We all know this is bad! There are so many articles about this. I have written so many articles about this.
But thanks to Lennon, I am revisiting the topic once again, not necessarily because I had a “that does it” moment with myself, but because of the way he described the mental clarity of his own self-imposed isolation. In an interview with journalist Barbara Graustark, parts of which were published in The New York Times last week during Lennon Week, he said of his own solitude:
“The real music, the music of the spheres, the music that surpasses understanding, comes to me and I’m just a channel. But in order to get that clear channel open again, I had to stop picking up every radio station in the world, in the universe. So my turning away from it is how I began to heal again.”
Keep in mind, Lennon said this way before social media even existed. But reading it in today’s context immediately made me think of Instagram—especially because of the radio metaphor. It is so unnatural for all of us to be picking up every radio station (aka scrolling) in the universe. How can we hear our own station when we’re listening to everyone else’s? How can we pinpoint our own thoughts when we spend so much of our time reading about everyone else’s? How can we leave room for cool new thoughts when our brains are already filled to the max with mental clutter? I know this is the point of meditation, and yoga, and limiting social media use, and all of those other things we do to quiet the mind. But sometimes I just need to hear a songwriter say it. Lennon was a poet, after all. And poetry resonates, at least with me.
The Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, 2017.
3. Music is the universal healer. Every December 8th, there’s a John Lennon singalong around the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Led by a group of musicians in the city, it starts just after sundown, and goes on into the night. There are usually about three or four guitar players, a keyboard player, and sometimes even a flute player. In true hippie style, all are welcome. Anyone who brings an instrument can join in, and all folks in attendance are encouraged to sing. It’s often freezing cold, but everyone’s in great spirits, united by an undying, unconditional love for Lennon. We forget the words sometimes, and other times we are out of tune or out of sync. But no one cares. Why would we care? We are all there to celebrate the same man, and the same city, and the same understanding that music is the great universal healer. My dad often comes to New York for the occasion, too, which is always a special time for us and was especially fun when I lived in a studio apartment on West 70th and Columbus Avenue, just two blocks from Strawberry Fields. We’d go to the singalong, then head into a bar in the neighborhood afterward to warm up our frozen limbs, always making sure to stop by the Dakota (on West 72nd) to pay our respects on the way out.
I wasn’t sure what it would be like this year. My dad didn’t come in order to limit Covid travel, and I wondered if the energy would be different because of the pandemic. Turns out, it was more powerful than ever. People were laughing more than usual, and singing louder, too. As I stood there in the freezing cold, my hands so numb I could hardly even take a good video, I asked myself: Did the vibe feel stronger because it was the 40th anniversary? Because we needed to connect with each other more than ever after this devastating year? Was it because we had to sing the songs a little louder through our masks, or was it because their messages of unity and hope were even more timely in the context of our country’s long overdue reckoning with race? I realized it was a combination of all of those things, a confluence of many events and ideas that had defined the past year of our lives and culminated in one of the most hopeful versions of “Give Peace A Chance” I have ever heard. As a writer in the wellness space, I am inundated with daily press releases about the next “It” thing in wellness, but that singalong proved what I’ve always believed to be true: Music is one of the greatest and everlasting healers of all. One man standing next to me had even brought the original TIME magazine from the week Lennon was shot, which he’d saved for all these years:
Obsessed with this 40-year-old issue! Magazine nerd forever.
It takes a special breed of human to bring people together 40 years after your death, during a pandemic, in the freezing cold. Lennon was all that and more. His messages were and still are timeless reminders of the human condition, reminders that we all need right now. I’m going to leave you with a note my dad texted me on December 8th, just as I was heading up to Strawberry Fields:
“John’s messages took heat for being too simplistic. I agree with him that everyone else makes matters too complicated.
All we are saying is give peace a chance.
Imagine there’s no heaven / it’s easy if you try / no hell below us / above us only sky.
All you need is love.
Love is all you need.
These are simple, direct, declarative sentences. They are genius.”
PS: As you likely know already, my first book, Destination Wellness, is now available for pre-order! All of the information you need to get your copy is on right here on my website. It may seem unnecessary to pre-order a book when you can just buy it when it comes out, but pre-orders are actually incredibly important for the success of a book, especially for first-time authors like me—more info on that here. I would appreciate any and all pre-orders so much!