Nowadays, the Christmas period is the time at which I take my longest holiday of the year. I don’t have it in me to take more than a week at any one time at any other time of the year. In the past, I used to work over Christmas; I even remember taking work home to my parents’ house in the 80s, and working on Christmas Day. And later on, I distinctly recall our children creeping into my study in our house in Norway on Christmas Day and asking me if I was working; I wasn’t, but it filled me with great sadness that they should think I was – was this a sign of the parental remoteness I had become so accustomed to with my own father? Have I changed since that day? In some ways, though I still feel that my parenting has always been too remote to have had any significant impact on the children I love. Yet it’s difficult to see how else I could have been, what with this forever burden of expectation of achieving extraordinary things on me as a son. Perhaps I have grown up with that expectation of myself as a parent.
The irony is that I hate this time of year, with its immovable darkness and relentless monotony, where my mind inevitably slips away to the wish that I was doing something more productive than doing nothing, when I crave to have some time to myself, when the world somehow comes to a standstill even as time continues to slip away from us, from me, at a frightening pace. Nothing seems right, and my mind is full of initiatives I think I should take, full of things I think I should do; so many things that I end up doing none of them. The problem here is that, although I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I get it into my mind that all the new ideas I have (and I guess this applies to any day, not just New Year’s Day) should be completed and achieved by the end of the day on which I have awoken with them in my mind. I don’t even think about impossibility or balance, and become nothing other than frantic.
Those days in the past when I did work the gap between Christmas and New Year and the return to normality after those “celebrations” seem now to me to be pearls of slowness, where the days lasted forever, where I worked and feasted, where time was not a finite valuable and escaping commodity, but something I had plenty of, something where I had the space to do something productive as well as mulling over the possibilities for the coming year. Maybe it’s wishful remembering, maybe it’s those famous rose-tinted spectacles – I don’t know. What remains now, when this period is coming to an end is a feeling of dread at the return of normality (leave covid out of this equation; here normality means the return to work, the dismantling of bright lights and decorations, the dismantling of goodwill to all, the cessation of the cessation of daily hostilities).
Every year, I start a new journal on this day, and every New Year’s Eve I read back through most of the journal that’s coming to an end. Last night, I stared at the words and found it difficult to even discern meaning in anything I’d written over the previous twelve months, and today, with that in my head, I question even the validity and value of the words I put down on the page. Is this a writer’s midlife crisis, or just the general state of dissatisfaction writers live with? Again, I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that sitting here, listening to Bruch’s Violin Concerto 1 in G Minor and writing these few brief thoughts down makes me feel better, makes me feel like I can string words together in some vague meaningful way, and feel like I have dedicated some of this rare thing called time to myself.