New Year, same old me

Women’s magazines love New Year. Their covers are full of titles like “New Year, New You!” and “How To Have Your Best Year Yet!”

This only brings out my inner cynic who, lets be honest, is rarely far from the surface. I recognise the absurdity of these false hopes even as I am drawn to their promise of transformation and the lure of Better.

Let’s face it: I’m not going to transform myself into a gregarious, high-energy style icon with a multi-million dollar business developed in my garage. One thing I do agree with those magazines on is that if I really, really wanted this I could achieve it or most of it. But it’s not going to happen because it’s not something I want.

And here I return to a persistent theme, namely how difficult it is to follow your dreams when those dreams are the antithesis of what the world says you Ought to want.

Dreams and plans and goals that the world endorses are big and bold, active, social and public. I want smaller, quieter, more private.

I want less stuff. I was thwarted in this by my father who gave me a book I wouldn’t buy because a flick through it in the library would be sufficient, and a very expensive designer alarm clock that I won’t use and have no need for. Now I have to figure out how to dispose of these items without causing offence. I realise this sounds ungrateful. It is. But I’d have been more grateful had he listened when I told him I didn’t want anything and if he really wanted to buy me something I’d prefer food or wine that I could consume.

Quieter should be easier to achieve, although it takes some discipline to shut out noise in all its many forms including social media, aimless web surfing, reality TV and the aforementioned women’s magazines. My real challenge will be to stop browsing on my phone when I wake up and to do something a bit more life-giving and positive when I start my day.

More private is entirely up to me really. Many would say I keep pretty much everything to myself as it is. And one has to share in order to have conversations with people and build relationships of any kind. But while I am hardly the type to air all my linen in public I do want to honour my need to keep some things to myself, not because they are scurrilous or shocking but because they are important to me. And I don’t want them tainted by others not treating them as important.

Those are my rules to live by this year. Same old me, really, only more so.

Incidentally I had a lovely Christmas Day with my nephews, no. 1’s partner & child, and my father, probably the nicest family Christmas I’ve ever had. But I won’t lie: it was taxing and I was completely over people for the next few days.

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Christmas and loneliness

Christmas is almost here, only one sleep to go. I’ve done what food prep I can for tomorrow and just hope Number 1 Nephew shows up with the ham as promised or I’ll be scrambling to feed everyone with tins of beans.

Christmas is renowned for being a high stress time of year, either because we’re with family or because we’re not. Damned if we do etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about past Christmasses spent on my own and how choosing to be alone is so very different from being alone because there’s no other option.

I’m thinking particularly of the elderly. In the paper there was a story about a Meals on Wheels volunteer who was making the regular weekly meal delivery to one of his charges, when the customer asked if he could spare 5 minutes to come inside. The elderly woman just wanted someone to be there with her when she opened her Christmas present.

This choked me up. It seems desperately sad that at the end of her life this woman was so isolated. It’s not uncommon, I know, but it seems like a terrible indictment of our way of life that this happens.

My love of solitude, my preference for spending time alone, may mean I never experience this kind of loneliness. Or it might lead me to exactly this point. I don’t know.

My father struggles with loneliness, not that he’ll admit it. He does all sorts of irritatingly demanding things that make me cross and it’s only later I realise they are driven by loneliness. He doesn’t call it that because I’m not sure he realises it’s that.

What strikes me, thinking about this, is how a lifetime spent pretending all is fine can become a handicap later in life when you can’t ask for what you need. The woman who asked the meal delivery man to be there while she opened her present at least managed that. It takes real courage to ask someone to help you be less lonely.

Winding up in the wind-down

I should be winding down at work given there’s only a week to go before the entire country shuts down to enjoy some sun at the beach and a Christmas picnic. But instead, that peculiar madness has come over everyone where they suddenly decide project/thing X absolutely must be completed by the end of the year. Invariably X has been sitting around ignored for months prior to this rise in its priority.

So I have been busy doing other people’s work for them, which normally leads to feeling tired and grumpy. However, I have managed to keep my wits about me and not let this get to me. It’s only taken me 30 years to learn I can say no at work and I won’t be fired.

This is a good feeling, being unbothered. I wish I’d known how to do it years ago. But it’s only possible now with the confidence that comes from years of proving myself capable, reliable, dependable and useful.

So I ignored all thoughts of work this weekend and spent it instead making a compost bin, painting the bannisters, and baking Christmas mince pies. It’s now Sunday afternoon and I feel achy from the painting but pleased with my progress.

I’m giving credit for this burst of activity to the impact of the change in my medication. I got permission to stop taking the particularly nasty RA drug that, while effective at keeping the disease well controlled, left me feeling about as energetic as a hibernating bear. The new drug has its side effects but debilitating fatigue isn’t one of them. I’m calling that a win.

How to do Christmas alone

With only three weeks to go, small talk has begun to focus on what people are doing for Christmas.

My preference was and is to spend it alone and do things I enjoy, invariably solitary pursuits of minimal interest to anyone else. Over the years I’ve developed the following approach to having a successful Christmas alone:

  1. Plan your solo day with the same forethought as you would if you were hosting Other People for Christmas at your place.
  2. Make sure you have food you like to eat, and make it a bit special. A bag of chips and a glass of red wine is fine (?!) for a Friday night dinner but Christmas dinner needs to be better planned. Since it’s summer at this end of the world my preference is salmon and salad with a special dessert like French chocolate tart. And bubbles.
  3. Decorate the house however you like. Or not at all. I never used to because I didn’t like the mishmash of decorations I had, but I finally got rid of them and spent a few hours making decorations. I’m much happier with my homemade strings of paper stars. It feels like me.
  4. Buy a present for yourself, something you really want. Wrap it and put it under the tree. Don’t unwrap it until Christmas Day. This is called delayed gratification and it means you’ll enjoy it all the more when you finally unwrap it. In my case I usually buy myself a book so I can spend the day reading it. I look forward to unwrapping the book because that signals the start of a day spent reading. Bliss.
  5. Do things you enjoy doing, and nothing you don’t. If you want to read all day, do that. If you want to lie in the grass and count daisies, do that. If you want to drive backroads singing Glen Campbell songs, do that.
  6. If anyone asks about your plans for Christmas, and you don’t want to tell people you’re spending it alone (because they will judge and will likely pity you then insist you join them or someone because they can’t deal with you being alone) you may have to dissemble a little. I usually respond “oh the usual, food, presents, what about you?” when I’m asked what I’m doing this year. It’s perfectly true.

So that’s it. Christmas on your terms. I can highly recommend it.

I’ve had Christmases alone for probably 20 years, off and on. Lately with my elderly widowed father and me the only child in town I’ve had to sacrifice my solitary Christmases to keep him company. This year, nephews 1 and 2 plus partner 1 and child 1 are all going to be in town and I’m having to host it. It’ll be the biggest and most peopled Christmas I’ve had since I was a teenager.

Much as I love my nephews, I’ll miss my solitary Christmas.

A pre-Christmas holiday

I went on holiday last week. Work was getting antsy about high leave balances, and I was fed up with work, so it was a mutually agreeable arrangement.

I found a lovely wee cottage to rent about an hour north of home, and I booked it for 4 days. I decided to start my holiday on Sunday afternoon because it was better than rushing out of work on Friday and dealing with traffic, and it was way better than a normal Sunday afternoon spent contemplating the week of work ahead.

The cottage was lovely, well equipped and clean and private. There was a table and two chairs outside under a verandah, with an outlook over a small field of lavender. It was warm and sunny. I sat outside with a cup of tea and a book and felt the tension letting go.

I replaced the tea with a glass of wine. I sat. I listened to the birds and looked at the lavender and sipped the wine. I felt the warmth seeping into my bones.

I went fly fishing one afternoon in the nearby river. I stood in the water casting and watching the strike indicator bob along until it was time to retrieve it and cast again. Rinse and repeat. I went to the beach and sat on the sand and looked at the shells and the small waves and the clouds and the people way down the other end of the beach. I let the sun warm me. I read. I took a nap in the shade of some silver birches. I watched a hedgehog make his way over the gravel driveway to the cool dark shade of my car and onward to the hedge. I made salads for dinner.

On other words, I went away for a week and did nothing and it was wonderful.