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Christmas-Time Reflections

I am on day 3 of my solitary Christmas holiday, and today I am feeling a little lonely.  My family teleconferenced me in to the gift exchange last night, which was fun, and it was great to have someone to hang out (and train dogs) with yesterday and Christmas Eve. Today all is quiet and I am getting down to the reason I stayed behind: work.

What is most striking to me this Christmas is just how quiet it is.  Other than my family and a couple of close friends, I have heard from virtually no-one this year.  Two or three people sent me actual email messages with content directed specifically to me, which was really nice.  I received exactly one Christmas card.  Sure I was on the receiving end of a bunch of mass e-mail greetings and general Facebook comments (I am really starting to dislike Facebook) but while it is nice to know that you are included, these are generally a pretty indifferent way of sending wishes and greetings.  Heck, a couple of such e-greeting came from people I haven’t spoken to in years.  Clearly my email address is simply still in their address book and they hit it ‘send all.’

This very quiet Christmas (New Year’s promises to be even quieter) is definitely a reflection of just how isolated I have become. Once upon a time I used to send out between 75-100 Christmas cards, and received almost as many.  I know it is environmentally unfriendly to send cards, a strike in favour of e-mail greetings which I have engaged in myself.  But Christmas used to be the one time of year that I try to reconnect with friends and family, who are spread far and wide.  I have lived in many places and traveled quiet extensively; I know people on every continent and used to keep in touch with all of them.  Over the years these connections have faded, and many I can hardly remember anymore.  A few I miss to this day.  People have moved and I lost all my addresses after converting them to electronic form and then suffering a simultaneous hard-drive crash and Palm Pilot failure.  I hoped that these friends would seek me out, but alas, few did.  And then when my health failed and I no longer had energy to maintain long-distance connections, they faded completely.

Last year I tried to start rebuilding old ties and managed to send out an electronic Christmas letter, individually addressed to each person with a short personal note attached to each.  I had hoped this would get things going again, but alas, no luck.  I have long since come to the realization that most people are poor correspondents and spend the majority of their social energy on those in close proximity.  This makes perfect sense, as we are not designed to travel long distances or have friends all over the planet.  The ability to do so really only started one or two generations before me, and my parents’ generation is probably the one that really got it going.  This is certainly not sufficient time to really change how we communicate, although the internet is playing an interesting role here.  Still, I can’t blame anyone for not thinking of me when they haven’t seen or heard from me in months or years.

Living out in the middle of nowhere is not helping, although it was really wonderful to have been included in one local Christmas dinner party the week before I left.  That was my first local invitation since I moved last July.  I am sure, with time, that I would make more such connections and eventually start to feel a little more rooted.  But the commute is killing me and there is no stability in the work that I have.  I am guaranteed one of my part-time jobs for next year, but funding for the other most likely will be cut.  I have some exciting prospects for new contracts next term, but I can’t continue to live contract to contract like this.  Doing so prevents me from committing to where I live, knowing that I may have to move in 8 months.

I am really tired of living a temporary life.  I can’t even find the energy to plant a garden when I don’t know if I’ll be able to enjoy it’s bounty.  Besides, building up soil is a big job, which takes time and effort, if not a bit of money.  To get things growing at my current house would take a tremendous amount of work, building up new beds and trimming trees and so on.  I can’t justify the time or expense if I’m going to be moving in June, or even the following spring.  Today I tried planting garlic at my parents house so that we would at least have some home grown garlic, but the ground is absolutely frozen.  Oh well, I guess there’s always next year.

I realize that my lack of access to land right now is a sign that I need to be focusing on other things, i.e. finishing the dissertation.  This is why I stayed home alone for Christmas – I am spending this week doing as much work as I possibly can towards finishing this project.  The sooner I’m done, the sooner I can start to build a permanent life.  I am tempted to try and find a home in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and commute back to London for a year (for work) while I start to build a life.  However there’s no guarantee that I’ll find permanent work there, and may have to move again.  Likely I will have to spend another 18 months in limbo, which isn’t that long but I’ve already spent 9 years this way and it’s become really old.

I really don’t know if I’ll survive another 18 months of isolation.  I firmly believe that we are meant to live collectively, and that we are very social beings.  While the forces of our society push us towards isolation, I need to find a way to push back.  I may have to make some decisions and take some risks, and hope for the best.  It is ironic that I am staying home, alone, to work, during the only time of year where most people I know gather together.  This perhaps does not bode well in terms of where this path is taking me, but hopefully it’s a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain.  I need to spend time clearing my heart and mind so that I can see clearly what I need to do.  This is what I will be pondering over the next week of self-imposed solitary confinement.

Outside, the rain just chanaged to snow.  I believe that is quite auspicious…

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5 Responses

  1. You have readers. Your writings touch people. Communication takes time that we all feel is diminishing. This is a very stressful time of year. Take care of yourself and the dogs.

  2. Hi Al, thanks for your kind words! Christmas does end up being a very stressful time of year and it really shouldn’t. I am doing a pretty good job of relaxing now, however, and enjoying spending some quality time with the dogs. I hope you are doing the same!

  3. I, too, felt surprised this year to realize that I only had 20 or so cards to put up (and most of those from Sophia’s friends! Only a few from overseas.) I assumed that this was just the way of things – people no longer send cards – but then went to another friend’s house last night and she had about 100. It’s a simple thing, but it does make you wonder! Social connections seem harder to keep up; new people harder to make the effort with. And it’s not surprising. It’s the way we live. Though I don’t have a crazy commute like you do, living in London means a visit to my two best friends takes 3-hours (there & back) by bus, tube, and bus again. We manage it at best once a month, not enough, and with much wrangling about where in the middle to meet. It seems so darn hard to organize things – it has to be weeks in advance – there’s no longer the possibility to just drop in on people. We all work too hard these days – and spend too much time wishing we weren’t…

    But this is why I find it’s so great to have the blog, a little space for reflection and for reaching out and finding new connections (and maintaining old ones, like me!) The final stretch of the PhD is very tough psychologically, so no doubt that makes everything feel tougher too. I just hope that this period pays off dividends for you and next year is an easier, happier, and more social one! I am sure it will be.

    Lots of love from London.

  4. Yes, blogging is a great space for reflection, and does offer a means for people to keep in touch and keep up to date! It’s a good outlet for me, especially as I sit in isolation an hour out of town. It is a necessary process, however, if I want to jump through these final hoops. Next year definitely promises to offer new possibilities, and I am looking forward to it! But most of the time, things right now are not too bad. Certainly much improved over last year, so I’m on the right trajectory!

    Will you be coming home anytime soon? Would be lovely to catch up over a long walk and tea or a glass of wine. In the meantime, wishing you much happiness for 2010! xoxo

    • Yes! Will be back in April, though it’s going to be totally mad. My mom has consented (somewhat graciously) to let me throw her a 70th birthday party. However, that means I’ll be around for 2 whole weeks, so if you were around for Easter, we could definitely get that glass of wine! (Wine, not tea!)

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