It was early afternoon on the 23rd December when I half-heartedly promised my loved ones that I’d keep away from my desk for the next three days. Apparently I spend too much time working and not enough time sitting about doing nothing.
I didn’t manage to keep away from my desk for three days. I managed to sneak a few hours of work here and there, and was glad to do so.
That’s the problem when you’re self-employed, and especially when you work from home in a job you love. It isn’t like having a normal job where your working hours are likely sacrosanct. Because my work is flexible and can be squeezed in around other parts of life, I usually have to allow everything else to take precedence.
Even so, if I work evenings or weekends or bank holidays, I’m teasingly labelled a ‘workaholic’.
This morning, the words ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ were directed towards me because I’d dared to say no to the prospect of doing some painfully unnecessary Christmas shopping. I didn’t go shopping. Instead, I sat at my desk and worked – to the accompaniment of YouTube Christmas carols played through powerful speakers at high volume.
I was extremely productive.
But I’m not feeling Christmassy. I haven’t felt it for a long time. And today I realised why. Christmas died with my dad.
It wavered when mum died some years earlier, but recovered slowly and went on fighting.
But when dad lost his battle, Christmas did too.
Since then, despite being mum to two teenagers who I adore… and who presumably still enjoy this ‘festive’ time of year… it is just not happening for me.
I’m not miserable or depressed. I’m not suffering in any way. It just doesn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t have the spiritual feeling. I don’t have the joy of seeing tiny faces light up at bright, plastic toys. And I don’t have parents to share it with.
Of course there are many children who grew up without parents and without the support and love I received. There are a great many more that were not parentless, but who nevertheless grew up unsupported and unloved – and I feel bad for them. It is clearly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But it’s not as simple as that.
You can’t switch off love and grief: Just as you can’t switch on Christmas.
That’s why I take refuge in my writing, music and other creative work. It has always been there as a relief and a pleasure. Everyone needs something like this – perhaps a hobby or a routine or ritual, perhaps even a religion or a spirituality. In my case, any religious or spiritual faith I may once have had seems to have dissolved into a middle-aged grumpy doubt, but no doubt it will rise up again when the essence of me demands it.
For now, I’m accepting that I will be allied with Scrooge. Though he loved his work, in his case it was because he had little else and was money obsessed. I am not Scrooge though – I love my work despite all else I have, and I am actually obsessed with the joy I receive from my work. I love being in my cosy office, listening to music from all genres, or half-watching crime dramas when doing routine tasks. I love knowing that my dream of becoming a ‘proper’ writer is now in place. OK, I may not be a well-known writer, but I am undoubtedly a person who writes – therefore, a writer.
My dad was a writer too. Not of fiction, but of works relating to wellbeing, ethics and religion. I shared much with him especially in his final years, and when I sit at my desk, surrounded by many reminders of him, I know he would be proud that I have continued to sit on his chair, to write with his fountain pen, and to store my pencils in his hand-lathed wooden pot. He would also be proud that the work ethic he distilled in me from my childhood, is alive and well and keeping me going.
Working hard does not mean you’ve permanently lost the spirit of Christmas, but sometimes grieving for a lost loved one makes it seem that way.
I live in hope it will return.