A warm bowl of oatmeal never fails to lift one’s spirits in dark times. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

It’s January and the holidays have ended. The sun sets at 5 pm. You now have nothing to do but listen to Elliot Smith and quietly ponder your existence. You may think you have a renewed sense of hope for the new year. We all know how that’s going to turn out. What could end this melancholic state, you may wonder? Do I need to buy one of those fake sunlight lamps? No, you don’t. All you need is oatmeal.

Get yourself a big bag of oats. It’s okay if it ends up sitting in your cupboard for a few decades. It will be there when you need it, however long it takes. My favorite is Bob’s Red Mill Rolled Oats, but whatever you can get your sad, cold hands on will do. 

Cook your oats however your instructions tell you to, except for one adjustment: replace the water with oat milk. You’ve made it this far, I know you won’t give up on me now. If you don’t have oat milk, any kind of non-dairy milk will do. Regular milk is okay, but it doesn’t have the same sweetness and you’ll end up with a strange film. If you go this route, you might want to use half milk and half water. Just don’t use water alone. Watery oats will stab you in the back, jack your car, and kidnap your firstborn child. Watery oats will not fix you. 

Oatmeal needs attention in order to thrive. If you set a timer and leave, it might boil over or get too dry, only leading to more disappointment. Take this moment as an opportunity to reflect on how lucky you are. Think about all the people who care about you and all the wonderful things that happen amidst all this darkness. Or just wallow in your endless sorrow, that’s fine too. Hey, your oats are done!

Now is the fun part. That is, if you ever had fun. Before we begin dressing up our oatmeal, a reminder: it is cold outside. You’ve lived through almost two years of a pandemic. You don’t need to feel bad about whatever you add to your oatmeal. People have told you oatmeal has to be healthy. These people are wrong, dead wrong. Oatmeal can be whatever you want it to be. Just enjoy it. You’re doing this for yourself and nobody else.

If you don’t feel creative today, you can use my toppings: vanilla extract, cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and blueberries. Some other ideas are chocolate chips, cranberries, bananas, peanut butter, honey, jam, yogurt, nuts, cocoa powder, and apples. You can put earthworms in it for all I care. This is your oatmeal. 

You made it. I’m proud of you. You did a good thing. Now it’s time to eat. Find a book, or your phone, or a wall to stare at. Whatever gets you through it, man. Let the oatmeal fill you with warmth. Who knows, perhaps you’ll feel the slightest twinge of happiness for the first time in months.

All good things have to end. Unless you have leftover oatmeal. You know what, good for you if that’s the case. I hope you put it in a tupperware and maybe even eat the rest later. Thanks for being here. Take care of yourself.

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