This blogpost goes beyond future Christmases and covers some of the issues I raised in The curses of isolation and loneliness – something that Frances Coppola covers in her post on loneliness at Christmas. It is also the third and final instalment following The ghosts of Christmases past and The ghost of Christmas present.
One of the recurring features for me since the millennium has been my failure to form close, meaningful longterm friendships with other people. A combination of my own personal failings, struggles with mental health problems, bad luck and life choices that took me from place to place. Hence a Christmas this year largely spent on Twitter because one of the best things to come out of this year for me has been the formation of closer friendships with people from all over the place, closer than I’ve had for years. Peter (@PME200) went into further detail on meeting great people on Twitter in his post on People.
In The ghosts of Christmases past I touched upon how the children I was at school with were to varying extents part of the same ‘out of school’ institutions that I was – whether local football clubs, cub scouts, church etc. Actually, church was a strange one for me. Being brought up a Catholic in Cambridge meant not going to the local church at the time informally attached to my primary school, but going to what I now see as this isolate enclave far away from anywhere. Thus there was this strange situation of one group of kids going to the local Catholic schools and churches, another group of kids going to the local Church of England churches (and the schools attached to them), a completely separate group of kids who played football on Sundays and thought church was what softies went to, and finally me who was sort of caught between all three. My complaint isn’t particularly with my parents – more with those institutions whose power games do more to divide communities than to unite them. Regular “interfaith” meetings cannot make up for artificially dividing communities – especially children – on lines of their parents’ faith.
But that’s all in the past. What about the future? Christmas was fairly straight forward as a church-goer. Essentially your schedule is worked out for you by virtue of when the various mass times and carol services are on. What do you do if you are (for whatever reason) not or no longer a Christian, don’t like the consumerist frenzy that Christmas has become and don’t feel part of a (geographically local) community of people? This is where I find myself today. Hence in part a Christmas on Twitter this year, because the people that I’m closest to as far as a meeting of minds is concerned, are on Twitter.
I don’t see Christmas on Twitter as a sustainable future though. It can’t be. I’ve always liked to think of myself as a social creature that values human contact and interaction. Take that away and I implode – which is pretty much what happened during my university days.
Unlike the integrated communities that I spoke of above, I have the opposite of that. Someone even wrote a book about it – the rise of the “portfolio career”. 1 day a week here, 3 says a week there, half a day somewhere else and a couple of mornings a month helping out elsewhere. But therein lies the problem: The only person such a career is integrated to is the individual – not the community. In the ten years of volunteering that I’ve done for a range of organisations, I struggle to think of the long term long lasting deep and meaningful friendships I’ve made. Not because of the fault of any one person, but actually because of the nature of the lives that so many of us live. The people who I have worked with have not been the people who have joined me at the evening classes or the weekend events and gatherings that I have been to. The places that I’ve lived in, the organisations I’ve worked in, the institutions that I have been enrolled in have all been very transient in nature. When the topsoil is continually shifting it is very difficult to put down stable roots. At the same time, the desire to put down those roots and/or get to know people better in the face of all of this can and has put people off – and understandably so.
I’m lucky in that Christmases spent alone in an apartment in front of the telly while eating microwave meals are unlikely to to be a reality in future years. The expanding next generation of my family mean that the responsibilities of being a doting uncle kick in. The presence of ‘in laws’ has already changed the family dynamic – fortunately for the better, and I hope that this is how it will be in the future. (Everyone seems to be more relaxed in the presence of the partners of my siblings). With nothing else happening this year, this arrangement leaves me content – grateful for what I’ve got compared to others, but not ‘happy’ – in terms of doing things that I would otherwise really enjoy.
I’ve had glimpses of this in the past – in particular the three Christmas/New Year’s balls in Cambridge in 2002, in Zurich in 2005 and in Vienna in 2007. All are things I’d love to repeat again in future years. The same with music – some of you may be aware that I have a bit of a background as an on/off violin/viola player. I’d love to get back into playing music for pleasure and get back into the buzz of performing. It’s not something that’ll come back overnight – it’s something that will take time, patience, effort and dedication. Yet those are some of the essential ingredients that make the buzz of the musical performance so much more enjoyable.
The common strand that runs through all of this seems to be being part of an integrated stable community. At the moment I feel like the proverbial bee without the hive. I could spend the next section going off on one about how ‘flexible labour markets’ destroy the very stability that communities need and that having transient populations come with a financial as well as a social cost…but I won’t. Not yet anyway. For now, like Puffles & the homeless bees, I’ll keep buzzling.