Friday, 27 December 2013

The Christmas Crisis

I love Christmas. I look forward to it every year. I love presents, both the receiving and the giving. I love time off work, I love eating, I love my friends and family, I love sparkly decorations, I love carols, I love the Pogues. My heart aches for people who can't enjoy Christmas because they have lost others or are alone. It must be face-rippingly hideous to watch the whole world shake its corpulent belly and go ho ho ho when you feel isolated or bereaved. But I am not (yet) in that number, for which I count myself lucky. I love Christmas.

I don't love New Year. In fact, much against my better judgement and despite a great one two years ago and an decent one last year, I loathe New Year with a deadly loathing. See this early blog for more details:

And, I'm now learning, I really don't love the days between Christmas and New Year either. In fact, for several years now, on and off, these days have been marked by loneliness and something that borders on depression, although I may be over-agrandising myself somewhat to go that far.

As with so many things in life, the fantasy and the reality just don't quite match up. For months now, I've been dreaming of this week; dreaming of not having to get up early, not having to work all day, having eight whole days to do with whatever I please.

I always think that being alone and having no plans is going to be so great. This is because my days in a regular week are so jam crammed sideways and backwards full with things to do, things I often end up resenting. In fact this over-cramming of my diary caused me to have a bit of a meltdown about a month ago and firstly cry for so long I became a bit alarmed about if I would ever stop and secondly cancel a whole bunch of things I was meant to be doing. So I'd looked upon these few days as an oasis of calm in the middle of the city centre of my life that is jammed full of demands and niceities. And I mean oasis like the soothing desert haven, not Oasis like the shouty annoying indie lot.

What is it that goes wrong? Have I forgotten how to enjoy being properly alone? I love being alone at the beginnings and ends of the day, it's my preferable state. I love having evenings alone. But it seems like perhaps several days in a row just starts making the bad voices kick off in my head.

I have learnt from the last few years. I know that watching endless TV (even the good stuff) and shovelling mountains of cheese into my mouth may equal very short term happiness but will result in concluding that no one could ever love me and life is completely futile by hour five. So I swore blind I would read novels and listen to Spotify this holiday, not just hook myself up to the goggle box.

However, I got a cold. And apparently decided that meant I was incapable of reading. But definitely capable of watching an entire series of Modern Family (and the Big Fat Quiz of the Year Show, and some of the godawful Alan Carr Twatty Man (Russell was on it, otherwise I would have turned off) (I hope), and the final feature length episode of Masters of Sex) all in the space of about 29 hours.

And now, predictably, I feel like I will never love anyone and life is indeed futile.

I think perhaps this Christmas crisis that seems to be becoming a tradition for me is also mixed up to the irrepressible human urge to make ourselves better in the new year. We all know these attempts are doomed to failure, but none of us (at least, not me, and I'm guessing a lot of you as well) can resist the siren song of resolution. I will carry on eating this cheese now, because as of tomorrow, I will lose the cheese and do all the sit ups and none of it will matter any more. I'll definitely be reading novels instead of watching TV as of next month and you can take that to the bank. Again, I wrote a would-be jokey blog about that right at the start of this year (New Year, New You, should be you interested), but the fact that none of my clothes fit properly and I'm not sleeping right cos I've been drinking too much and I keep making one stupid mistake over and over and over and over again means that the pressure to change and change for the better don't feel so fucking funny right now.

Next year, I hope to be on a beach in Hawaii for this whole period of time. Hopefully with my best friends around me. Because I have a feeling that the loneliness will follow me, even if I do get to the sun. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Art of Conversation

I like talking to people. It's possibly my favourite thing in the world. I think I like it best when they don't answer back, hence why I love writing in this blog so much, all appearances to the contrary given the six month gap since my last entry. I can only apologise, but my PhD has taken over my life and squeezed my brain dry of any excess creativity. So quite what the quality of this blog will be, I dread to think. I shall close my eyes while I type and I'm sure it will all fine.

(I actually did close my eyes for last five words. No typos, you'll note, though I did miss out the word be. Riveting stuff. It's already going really well, eh?)

Talking to people in person is, of course, lovely. If they're the right people, which all too irritatingly often they aren't, and then it's just awkward and miserable, whether you're the one trying to get away or the one suspecting you're trying to be got away from. But when it is the right person, then it's all eye contact and belly laughs and clinking your drink to say cheers and maybe even a bit of a cuddle if you're lucky. You won't rack up phone bills or get RSI from good old face to face chat either, so it is a bit of a winner right out of the gate.

But... you know... we're all so bloody BUSY these days, aren't we? And everyone will insist on moving further and further away from me, and I think I am actually developing an allergy to trains in the same way I have an allergy to wheat... ITS, I shall have to call it, Irritable Train Syndrome, and if I have to stand around on a cold platform in South East London weeping over my useless smart phone because I still don't really understand how it's meant to make trains come faster, and as a result I have once again missed the last train for the next 45 minutes, I shall probably chuck myself onto the tracks. (That was a nice coherent sentence for you all, eh? Hey ho, I did try to warn you.)

So I guess phone calls, right? And in theory, yes, phone calls are a great idea. You can laugh with each other! You hear tone of voice! You can connect in many of the ways that you can face to face! All these things are true, and yet I only know two people in the entire world that still like phone calls and one of those is my supervisor. The rest of us have suddenly become terrified of them.

It didn't used to be this way. There was a time, as a teenager, when I would come thundering down the stairs no matter what time of day or night in order to snatch the ringing handset of victory from under the nose of my father and then happily stay chatting on it, lying across the hallway with my legs up the wall, for hours on end, pretending all the while that I couldn't hear my mother yelling at me to get off the phone and come to DINNER young lady.

Oh, sweet telephone, when did it all go so wrong? When did I stop trusting you?

Well, when other options... other - and here's the rub - editable options came along. I have always been a writer, which means I've always been an editor, which means I've always lain awake at night planning the exact sequence of syllables with which to seduce and surprise my suitors. But all the planning in the world can come to nought when faced with the stuttering reality of real-time interactions. Of course, being a self-immolator as well as a writer, I will then lie awake the whole of the next night cursing myself for having said oncology when I meant to say ontology. And those kinds of mistakes are far too easy on the old dog and bone.

So when text messages came along, our eyes met across a crowded room and the rest is history. Oh, the delightful back and forth banter! The exquisite pressure of presenting the best possible side of yourself in a small, neat paragraph! The absurd pleasure of correctly spelling six syllable words in defiance of the autocorrects of your friends! (Yes of course, conversation is better when it becomes a sort of war - what's your point, caller?) The freedom to reply whenever you damn well please, rather than having to attend to some cursed shrill ringing RIGHT NOW! Added to all this the thrill of the trill of the phone as a text message is received and you know that someone, somewhere is thinking of you and maybe you won't die alone to be eaten by the mice you fear so much after all and really, I think the pinnacle of human conversation has been reached and none of us ever need bother to leave the house again.

Text messages would really be enough to sustain me until the end of my days, but throw Facebook into the mix and I have an embarrassment of riches. I used to hate MSN, feeling it as a boorish intrusion on whatever highly intellectual past time I was engaging in at that moment (read - typing Morrissey lyrics into Word 95 and trying to glean their True Meaning), yet somehow, now the concept has been given some lipstick and high heels and has re-entered my life as Facebook Chat, I am hooked. (Oddly, I still don't really have much patience for people trying to chat to me in gmail and wish I knew how I could turn that function off. I don't know why. Oh, contrary-ness, thy name is Johanna).

I am smarter and funnier and at least 10% more attractive on Facebook Chat than I am in real life. Plus, I can keep one eye on the telly whilst engaging my awesome art of assonance. I also like to start conversations on people's Facebook walls. Why is this? I have been reading a little recently about how some people think we're all hell-bent on ditching the idea of privacy, and posts on Facebook walls are seen as proof of this. I don't really agree. I wouldn't talk about heart-break or tampons or a stinging sensation when I pee on a Facebook wall. (Oh no, no, clearly, I'd save that for this blog, you lucky readers). The things I'd say to a friend on their Facebook wall are the same sorts of things I'd shout to them across a crowded room at a party. It's just that with Facebook, the party lasts all day, dude. (Do you think if I say enough things like that, I'll be able to convince Zuckerberg to fund the research I want to do next year?)

Yet somehow, I can't really get on with Twitter. I'm on Twitter, and I use it to promote this blog and to talk to my friend who left Facebook, but that's about it. I think it's a combination of always wondering why anyone would choose to use 140 characters when 140,000 would do and an obsessive need to read *everything*. This is just about manageable on Facebook. On Twitter? You're having a laugh mate. Plus, I don't really understand hashtags. #old. 

So yeah. If, for any reason, you want to talk to me, then text me or send me a Facebook message. Phone me and I'll probably hide under my bed for a few days before I can remember it won't hurt to ring back. I would say face to face is best, but they I might get people turning up on my doorstep unarranged and I'd never get over the horror. I am a Londoner, you know.