Christmas – Achieved

On the second day of January 2018, I ended my Christmas holiday and went back to work. 

I remember saying to myself at the time, “it’s going to be a while before you stop again, Ken.”

I was right.

(Photo by Richard Szwejkowski)

Last Friday, I locked up the office and started into my Christmas break for 2018. Since that previous January, I had managed just one day’s holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I had my weekends and I had most of the bank holidays too. Sometimes I left work early and I had a couple of days away early in the year but they were very far from being a holiday.

When I try to figure out why Christmas means so much to me these days, I think that must be a large part of it. The stopping. The being able to do something different. To slow down. To hibernate a little. Sit and read. Watch a film I’ve seen a score of time before. Take a walk.

It’s like a video game where you struggle and struggle and then win a little bonus for yourself. A little gold coin, perhaps. Christmas is that gold coin. Achievement unlocked.

I love Christmas because I’m stopped but it’s also important that the people I work with and for are largely stopped too. Nobody is after me.

The day I start these holidays is a strange dizzying time. It’s like being thrown, fully clothed, into the deep end of ‘nothing to do’. It reminds me of a goldfish we once had. He was in a little round bowl and he stayed there for a while. Eventually, we got him a bigger rectangular tank and put him in there. But, here’s the thing, he still swam around in that tight little circle inside the big tank. He couldn’t get his head around the space. That’s what I’m like on these first days of the Christmas break. I can’t sit for too long. I can’t rest. I clean the house like a maniac. It’s like I’m building a nest wherein I will hatch Christmas.

At this moment, I’m just about over that ‘lost goldfish’ stage. I’m starting to settle into this different routine. There’s still a hundred things to do but they’re a different hundred things. I’ve still got a small bit of shopping to do and the bedroom needs a good going over but the carols are on the speakers as I type this and the fridge is well stocked and nobody is calling me and there’s no place that I really have to be.

It’s a moment to savor. The holiday stretches out like an endless thing but I know that feeling will only last for the shortest of times. I have to be one place on one day, I have to be another place on another day. Soon the gentle rise of the long break will be peaked and the end will be there in full sight below. Long before the holiday is over, my mind will return to what I have to do and how I will do it.

The holiday is never as long as it seems, not in my mind.

But that’s Christmas future. For the present, there is peace in this preternaturally tidy house. The voices on my speakers proclaim a ship sailing in and the lights of the little tree here in my room are flat and white and even.

I wish you a Happy Christmas. I really do. I hope there are a few moments that are markedly different from the rest of the year.

I’m going out now, to explore the unfamiliar corners of my Christmas.

Who knows what I might find?


Jim Murdoch said...

I miss Work. I’m still working—being active in a productive way—but it’s different. For virtually all my life work has defined me. It began with bible study, schoolwork and homework and continued on from there. I was never adept at being idle as a child. Being active was better than nothing, being productive was better but later on I discovered being creative and that was just the bee’s knees. The problem was switching off. I didn’t want to—work was so addictive—and eventually didn’t know how and burned myself out. Not once or even twice but four times. There’s a direct correlation between my jobs and my bouts of depression but even when it dawned on me what was happening as soon as I was semi-fit I dove back in head first; couldn’t wait to throw myself back into the fray. The problem was the damage was cumulative and every subsequent breakdown proved harder to bounce back from than its predecessor. Until the last one when Carrie gave me an out and what did I do? I became a Writer.

In those early days I was spending twelve hours in front of my computer. If I wasn’t a worker what was I? And for the first few years I did what I’d always done although without a wage at the end of the month. That didn’t matter—the money was never the driving force—I had job satisfaction. But, on cue (my breakdowns typically arrive about every eight years), a couple of years back I started to realise I was struggling again. Had I a paid job and the concomitant pressures the usual would’ve happened I have no doubt. Instead I found myself dwindling day by day until even scrabbling together a few words to accompany an old poem was becoming hard work but I was determined to make the ten year mark no matter the cost.

It’s been over a year since my last blog post and I had hoped mind-numbing boredom would drive me to begin a new project but apart from a dribble of not-completely-terrible poems nothing much has happened. I haven’t read a book in months (Carrie practically polishes off a novel a day) and yet the days somehow slip by and when I get to the end I wonder what the hell I’ve done to fill them but fill them I obviously have and not done half the things I’d hoped to. I keep myself occupied but I’m hardly productive and not remotely creative. But you can’t force it. At least I can’t. I hate those who can with a vengeance. Anyway about a month back I decided I’d try something new. I bought a Yamaha keyboard. I haven’t so much as touched a keyboard in over thirty years ago and the last time I composed anything would be almost forty years back but I thought (I hoped) if I had the thing sitting there it might get the juices going. Much to my surprise I found I can still muddle my way through most of the songs from Oliver! and many of Disney’s standards pre-The Rescuers but my favourite so far is the ‘The Lonely Man’ theme from the end of The Incredible Hulk. I managed to remember a couple of my old songs but nothing new. I keep playing an A+ chord followed by a Dm and can’t decide where to take it from there—okay probably C#dim (there aren’t that many to choose from)—but I’ve only had the damn thing a month. I do have a new book which I’ll get around to publishing next year with as much enthusiasm as a guy who can’t be arsed thinking up a witty simile to finish this sentence.

2018 seemed to treat you kindly and I only hope 2019 doesn’t decide to rock the boat. Do try and not overwork too much. You’re clearly not me (and thank whoever we’ve decided you thank each night for that) because maybe rather than a handful of little burnouts life’s been saving yours all up for one almighty conflagration. Just saying.

Ken Armstrong said...

I love the thought of you playing music. That sounds so good. I think the super productive writing thing is probably cyclical and will come around again.

2018 has been a good one for me but it had it's severe blows as well. They don't always get reflected in the blogs as I feel a duty not to impose even more pain on people who already have enough. But, yes, I've been lucky, yet again, to come out of it all standing up. I think the best thing about me is that I know this.