They say that a week is a long time in politics.  It also seems that a week can be a long time in December.  The thoughts & feelings that I had last Thursday seem a lifetime ago, almost unrecognisable to how I feel today.  That is not to say that either last week’s or this week’s emotions are better or worse, or that either are somehow more true than the other; one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is that changing moods or feelings are not a dichotomy of false consciousness/reality, but just different perceptions that are an inevitable, unstoppable (and at times even desirable) part of life – life and our reactions to it change as surely as the moon passes through its lunar cycle.  We wouldn’t dream of trying to interfere with the moon’s natural course and trying to stop our life changing is as futile as trying to keep the full moon from becoming a crescent once again.

Remember the word lists that you used to have to learn at primary school?  Mine for last week would have read something like: haven, comfort, cosy, wool, fairy lights, clear nights, ritual, routine, hibernation, nostalgia, timelessness, the past.  For this week, this list changes to: trapped, escape, freedom, wanderlust, fresh, clean, purge, fog, cleanse, rejunvenation, angsty, new year.

The news of a death – the death of someone whose Christmas card is still stood on the shelf next to me as I write – before I began this post served as a further reminder of the futility of trying to stop change.  Instead we need to roll with it, embrace it as effortlessly as the seasons impercetibly shift from one to the next, because none of us know what day will be our last. 

This post may seem a little disjointed and fractured, perhaps reflecting the mental impact of eating my own weight in confectionary since the last post.  Maybe the nature of the post reflects the difficulties I still have in accepting the changes that are part and parcel of life.  Knowing something and actually being able to do it are very different things.  But as it is nearly the end of one year and the beginning of another, I have a little ritual that may help.  Before every New Year’s Eve, I look back at my journal for the last New Year and reflect on what’s happened since.  Have I achieved my aims and plans for the year?  What else has happened that I’m proud of or enjoyed?  At the same time, plans emerge for the coming year: what am I doing with my life?  Where do I want to go?  We may not be able to fully control the direction in which our life is going, but I like to have a few ideas that might provide help or guidance along the way – even if that idea is as simple as finish knitting a cardigan.

So I hope that by the time I return to write another post, the fog will have lifted and I will be able to see the path before me a little clearer.  In the mean time, if you’ve read this and know the kinds of feelings that I’m wrestling with – if you share this kind of malaise and introspection – then may I suggest a film that speaks to this condition: Stranger than Fiction.  I think sometimes we all feel like Harold Crick.  

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The End of the Journey

Christmas Eve, day fourteen of my alternative Twelve Days of Christmas quest, has just drawn to a close.  As the clock ticked over from the 24th to the 25th, I was driving back from having dropped some friends off after a fab evening out.  Dylan on the stereo; the moon and stars shining down brightly in a very clear sky.  In that moment, I felt happy – truly, deeply happy. 

In that celestial moment, I realised that I have travelled to the moon and back during the last two weeks.  In that sense, my own version of the Twelve Days of Christmas has served its purpose.  I set out wanting to explore what constituted – how to achieve – a ‘Christmas of my own’ and I’ve discovered more than I ever could have imagined.  Yet, as is so often the case, sometimes we have to go a long way to realise that what we were looking for was with us all along.  Friends, family, crafts, music, a sense of community – these have been the core elements of the lyrics I’ve come up with.  It’s not that things like shopping and spending money haven’t been part of my festive preparations; it’s just that they haven’t seemed sufficiently important to be included.   

Christmas Eve hasn’t just marked the end of the journey, it represented the culmination of the journey too.  All the elements that have featured over the other days seemed to have a part in the day, creating a period of time that has felt almost so perfect that I long to capture it in a glass cabinet and hold on to it forever – like the butterfly collectors of the nineteenth century, who didn’t realise that by pinning the creatures down and preserving them, they were actually destroying that which they loved.  Rather than trying to hold onto all the moments of the day, I will just remember that life is full of journeys and I hope to travel down the same road again.  There is, after all, another Christmas in twelve months’ time.

On the fourteenth day of Christmas, my own way was to be fourteen days a journey, thirteen rows a knitting, twelve trees a glowing, eleven carols a singing, ten pins a bowling, nine weeks a planning, eight hours a sleeping, seven scenes a snowing, six plates a spinning, five Ro-o-ses, four simple pleasures, three finished parcels, two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.

On the thirteenth day…

Well, we have finally arrived at the days that don’t feature in the original song as I was so enthusiastic about this mini-project that I started it the day I had the idea, rather than waiting until twelve days before – or indeed waiting until Christmas day itself and doing the twelve days after, as is technically correct for the twelve days of Christmas.

Having got to day thirteen of my quest yesterday, I can see why the song’s creators stopped at twelve: it is awfully hard to find something that relates to thirteen.  As I went to bed, I was still thinking about what I could use, whereas all the other days have picked themselves.  I had attempted to pick up the Cadbury’s Roses theme again, but couldn’t quite manage gobbling down thirteen chocolates (I gave it a good go, mind).  When in bed, I made a start on my latest knitting project.  Having finished all the Christmas-related items that I seem to have been knitting for months and months, I wanted to make something for myself and have picked a lovely pattern up for a cardigan.  My plan was to make a start over Christmas but seeing as last night was almost Christmas Eve, I cracked on with it anyway.  Part way along the first row, I was struck with inspiration for the alternative Twelve Days of Christmas: get to thirteen rows and it can be knitting themed. 

As knitting is my favourite craft, and craft is such a big part of my life now, it seems fitting that it should have a place in the lyrics reflecting ‘a Christmas of my own’, and 1534 stitches later, so it has: thirteen rows a knitting. 

On the thirteenth day of Christmas, my own way was to be thirteen rows a knitting, twelve trees a glowing, eleven carols a singing, ten pins a bowling, nine weeks a planning, eight hours a sleeping, seven scenes a snowing, six plates a spinning, five Ro-o-ses, four simple pleasures, three finished parcels, two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.

On Wednesday afternoon, I visited a Christmas tree festival at a beautiful old church near where I live.  Having got freezing cold taking photographs in the churchyard, the inside of the church seemed all the more warm and bright.  Here are some of the highlights of my twelves favourite trees, all twinkling and glowing as the sun went down…

NB The photographs continue in the post below

Eleven carols a singing…

Throughout trying to come up with my own alternative Twelve Days of Christmas (with the two provisos that there will actually be fourteen of them & they come before Christmas whereas the proper twelve days of Christmas come after the 25th), I have been slightly taken aback by how easily I’ve found items that fit the appropriate number; they’ve all been quite obvious contenders and not one is made up.  My astonishment was especially strong for the eleventh day (Tuesday), when I went carol singing and found – entirely coincidentally – that we sang eleven carols.  Not only was this the perfect number for the song’s lyrics, but I was also an event that I would like to commemorate in my version.  As well as being a Christmassy event (when else do you sing carols?!), singing is becoming an increasingly important part of my life.  I’m not a very good singer, but I’ve realised that singing makes me happy – I make a conscious effort to sing in the shower in the mornings as it sets me in a good mood for the rest of the day.  I’ve also realised that my singing – like my ten pin bowling skills – is not as bad as I have always thought.  On Sunday evening at the carol service, I felt confident enough to accompany my friend’s singing (albeit as quieter support) – the first time I have ever sung as a performance in public.  On Tuesday, I belted out the carols in our little group and didn’t feel embarassed; I may not be going to win any awards for my vocal talents, but given the right song, I can hold a tune reasonably enough. 

It’s funny how changing a long-held opinion about yourself can alter your whole self-perception. 

On the eleventh day of Christmas my own way was to be eleven carols a singing, ten pins a bowling, nine weeks a planning, eight hours a sleeping, seven scenes a snowing, six plates a spinning, fives Ro-o-ses, four simple pleasures, three finished parcels, two children’s gifts and a morning of charity.