Christmas… Hmmm…

This week’s Weekly Word Prompt: Christmas asks if we prefer to take a traditionalist or a modernistic view of the holiday season. Hmmm… The assumptive close inherent in the question seems to offer that these are the only two available options, and both options also seem to assume that the trappings of Christmas – or the ‘holiday season’ as it’s now known – are inevitable, that this is an enjoyable and inclusive time of year for everyone…

Well, not for me, because I’m just not a Christmassy person at all – at least not Christmas as it stands today. But to be clear I’m not completely a bah-humbug kind of person either – I’m more of a not-too-hot, not-too-cold, lukewarm ‘undecided voter’ about it all. Right now heading towards the end of November I can pretty much take it or leave it, and feel cloaked in a miasma of insipid ‘meh’ instead of sparkling in the glitter-strewn excitement I see shining in so many other people around me.

I’m really not at all a fan of the Western capitalist push to rampant consumerism around Christmas that starts immediately after Halloween. Christmas – ostensibly a Chrisitan festival – no longer seems to be anything to do with religion or religious belief, it’s become instead a manic whirlwind of spending excess money while encouraging little more than a culture of personal greed and profligate waste. It’s no longer about the joy of giving, or community spirit, or helping those in need – it’s no longer simply the thought that counts.

Somewhere along the line quality of sentitment has been trampled underfoot in the triumphant quest for quantity of stuff – how much to spend on each present, how many presents for each person, how many people to buy for, money money money, more more more… Personally I find this socially accepted me-me-me attitude upsetting in the extreme. ‘What are you getting for Christmas?’ is always what’s asked of people, no-one ever asks ‘What are you giving for Christmas?’

The thing is, in my mind Christmas celebrations can still be pleasurable without relying on extreme financial excess – get together with people you choose to spend time with, or take time out on your own if you’d rather. Decorate your home if you choose to, or don’t if it doesn’t suit. Eat nice food by all means, enjoy a special meal designed to your own taste. Give token gifts if you want, and receive them gratefully. Take pleasure in the simpler things in life, live mindfully in the moment.

And above all, try to remember the real value of Christmas rather than constantly counting the cost…

Busy Doing Nothing

So far I’ve been studiously avoiding this week’s prompt word of ‘busy’… but not because I’ve been ‘too busy’ to write a post about it…

‘Busy’ conjures up for me all the restrictive oughts and shoulds of constant and visible busy-ness prized so highly in our Western capitalist consumerist society, and feelings of shame that by that reckoning I’m not worthy of comment in that regard. It’s not that I don’t do busy – I can (and do) still have periods of extreme busy-ness in my life. But at 55 I also have plenty of prolonged periods of rest and relaxation, those magical spells of mental and physical time out from… well, from all of it really.

I’m tired of having to justify myself to others who respond judgementally to what they consider my lack of involvement in the treadmill of modern life. I mean, I did that for years – for decades – out of necessity. I brought my three kids up as a working single mother, and now they’re all grown up with families of their own I can choose to work part time and be a (rather lazy) housewife the rest of the time. And I don’t see my lack of rushing around in the rat-race as a negative thing – for me, it is a truly positive choice.

The whole ‘work/ life balance’ thing is a bit of a 21st Century theoretical buzz-word just now, but not many people actually consider what that means in practice. The reality of achieving a successful work/ life balance will in all probability look different for everyone – in my experience it’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all concept, because people want different things in life. But the important thing is it always has to be about balance. If you always prioritise the importance of work over life regardless of personal circumstance, then where’s the balance in that?

For me, I’m considering the concept of work/ life balance over my entire lifetime – I worked hard to do well at school, leaving at 17 with a good education, then got married at 18 and had my three children before I turned 22. I had a very difficult marriage and got divorced from their dad then worked a combination of part time and full time while bringing them up as best I could. After my children grew up I studied full time for a degree, then worked full time again for the next decade while paying off my student loan. I’m re-married now, and my husband and I have paid off our mortgage so we are embracing a kind of pre-retirement limbo-lifestyle.

People (usually working people, actually) ask me a lot what I do with my time when I’m not at work, as if I’m being somehow over-indulgent and selfish in allowing myself so much ‘free’ time. Well, I do a bit of housework, and a lot of reading, photography, colouring in, walking for leisure, enjoying nature, cooking, watching TV, blogging, thinking… so in a way I do have a busy life, but my style. Busy too enjoying family relationships to an extent that hasn’t been possible in years, invaluable with ageing parents and young grandchildren in the mix.

Honestly, I really like my life this way, quiet and unassuming and relatively easy compared to how it used to be. I don’t need pity from high-flyers for not being a career-minded go-getter like them, that’s just not me and never has been. OK, so I have a good degree under my belt yet I choose to work part time in a local pub – so what? I could go back to working for bigger bucks in central London again with all the stress and responsibility that goes with it, but why the hell would I want to do that? Been there, done that, happily wearing the T-shirt with my jeans every day instead of being all trussed up in ‘smart business dress’.

Roll on retirement, that’s all I can say, then I can legitimately start being busily retired and to hell with having to explain myself to others… and I honestly, genuinely, really truly can’t wait! 🙂

Weekly Prompts: Edit

I usually like to try wherever possible to compose my photographs as correctly as possible, requiring minimal editing, but sometimes I’ll find I have to crop the edges a little, or I’ll want to convert the image to black and white – the above image has had both applied in post-processing. My original has slightly more empty dark space on the right hand side and along the bottom, and even as I took the shot (in colour) I knew I wanted to greyscale the final image to fully emphasise the highlights and shadows.

Other crop-type editing gets done at home whenever I need to straighten out wonky horizons, or cut out random parts of people either coming in or going out on the edges of the shot. And as well as considering the simple starkness of monochrome, other visual changes can include making a negative image which is sometimes very effective whether in colour or in black and white. And at other times I just go completely over the top and apply a digital art filter to an entire image – I find these are truly great fun to play with! 🙂

Weekly Prompts: Edit

Photographing People: Picturing Portraits

I’m a keen amateur photographer, but really struggle with the reality of taking everyday pictures of people. I love the idea of taking up-front and honest environmental portraits of people in their own domain, or just capturing off-the-cuff candid shots of strangers while out and about. But sadly to be successful that really requires a level of personal interaction I feel truly uncomfortable with, so historically it’s not something I’ve ever done.

I’d love to have the faith to just go for it with a kind of spontaneous confidence that over-rides my natural hesitation and reserve. If only I didn’t feel so uncomfortable about making contact with people I’d like to photograph, feel so afraid if rejection and of failing, there are so many informal portraits I could take, capture a real snapshot of that person at that moment in time…

Of course, living in London necessarily there are often multiple people visibly present in my images, but usually taken en masse from a distance, like a crowd on the river cruiser or in the tube, or fewer individuals closer up but taken from behind so they are unaware of my presence, like in the above images from Borough Market. I’m always sadly disappointed in the results though, as my attempts at capturing people going about their daily lives are inevitably half-hearted and lack-lustre.

But yesterday I decided to be brave and take a chance on not being rudely rejected, so I finally approached a friendly, chatty stall-holder and asked with a smile to take his picture, and here is the result!

Ok, so it’s only one simple portrait of one person I’ve never met before, but for me it’s a bit of a breakthrough. Even if only temporarily, I overcame my fear, my caution, my overwhelming reticence, and I finally did it! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: People

Fandango’s Provocative Question

Spontaneous or Stick in the Mud?

Hmmm… I’m not generally the world’s most spontaneous person, as much as anything because for me life has not historically lent itself to the freedom – the luxury in my book – of spontaneity. Well, apart from my very beginning – I was born in a hurry as my mum went into spontaneous labour three weeks early, and as I was lying in the transverse breech position I was eventually delivered by emergency Caesarean Section in the wee small hours of the morning.

I had a lot of sore skin and bad breathing allergy problems as a child which, while growing up, seriously restricted what I could eat and what was safe chemically to come into contact with – in fact I was in and out of hospital several times throughout my formative years due to particularly bad flare-ups – so inevitably a lifestyle of learned caution and careful consideration was born positively out of necessity rather than negatively out of negligence on my part.

I had my first baby a scant month before my nineteenth birthday, and then two more in relatively quick succession (with my third baby born just two months past my 21st!) and as a young mum of three I tended to continue to be cautious for my children’s sake. So I may appear to be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud by some people’s standards, but I owe no apologies for that. I have always had personal responsibilities that took precedence, first to myself and then to my children, but not (I feel) ever to answer apologetically to the uninformed opinions of rest of the world at large.

However in spite of my obvious lack of spontaneity I don’t really consider myself to be conservative at heart – I can still be a reasonable risk taker when the odds weigh favourably enough, and I certainly haven’t lived my life quietly hiding in the shadows respectfully toeing the societal line without question. I studied full time for my degree as a single-parent 30-something adult, graduating with a First Class Honours Degree at 40 – two years after I first became a grandmother – so am certainly not averse to venturing into unknown waters in the right circumstances.

Personally I feel that had my lifelong health issues not restricted me so badly in early childhood and beyond, I may well have developed more spontaneous behaviour from the start, continuing on from my unconventional and unpremeditated entry into the world. But like it or not I am where I am – still living cautiously with my ongoing allergies well into my fifties, with all three children grown up safe and sound and out in the world creating their own lives, one with a successful career and two with young families of their own.

No gap years, no travelling the world, no spontaneous ‘fun’ in that sense for any of us. But I have to say I’m very proud of all of us for simply doing our best in life with whatever hand we’ve been given… 🙂

Weekly Word Prompt: Spontaneous