As we enter the first Monday in this characteristically dreary February, Christmas seems further away than ever. And yet, Gelf the Elf still sits placidly beside me as I search for the momentum, for the memories and the Light. I suspect that I have not been alone in feeling that all too familiar sensation of January daze. It’s a daze of wilfully hopeful anticipation, and optimistically performed ‘resolution’ for the year ahead; but it’s also a daze of wistfulness, a mourning for the time just passed, a reminder of the burdens still present.
Like Janus, the Roman God from whom its name derives, January is a time of beginnings and of transition. It is, in fact, a month in which we become uber-aware of ‘Time’ itself; of its limits and of its possibilities. Having stood still in the nostalgic peace of those festive ‘silent nights’ and lazy Christmas pyjama days, Time is back ON. The carpets are hoovered, the Christmas decorations are back in the box, and clocks seem to be ticking faster than ever before. For most of us, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, time to get back to work, and well, frankly, time to just simply ‘get on with it’.
January is certainly a beginning, with all the rush of mixed emotions that beginnings bring. But it’s also an end. The end of what is deemed by some as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’; the end of Christmas. For many, this is of course a relief. The world can only stand still for so long; and it somehow seems easier to hide in the nondescript abyss of the ‘everyday’. Many of us seem well accustomed to self knowingly churning out those stock empathetic phrases of concern which recognise Christmas as ‘a difficult time’. But it often seems all too easy to neglect the bitter realities of such statements – something my research experiences have at times made painfully apparent.
For those who found their problems only magnified in the eerie stillness of the Season, those who experienced its abundance as emptiness, and those who found its expectations and exhortations only oppressive and restricting, the January daze is often, if anything, jarringly preferable. For others, this return to the ‘everyday’ realities of January carries with it the quiet sinking sigh of disappointment. It’s a weary worn sigh; a bittersweet reminder that good things and good times don’t last forever; a realisation tinged with that creeping, fearful scepticism that perhaps they never really existed anyway.
It is into this atmosphere of dazed disbelief that February enters; no wonder perhaps that it is so often depicted as a dried up, lifeless month of boring drudgery. It seems no accident therefore that it should have been welcomed in with two key societal acknowledgements of the seeming need to re-collect after the inevitable ‘blues’ of the January daze. Christians across the world have this past weekend been reminding themselves of the glow of Christmas Light in celebrations of the oft forgotten festival of Candlemas which, in many traditions, draws the liturgical season of Christmas to a close. Meanwhile, 1st of February was designated Time to Talk Day – a national campaign promoted by mental health awareness charity, Time to Change.
Carrying out post-Christmas interviews amidst other burdens over the past month has brought home to me more than ever the need to create the time, and indeed the space, to talk and to reflect. Just what these spaces might look like – what form they might take – is a question which I have found pervading my thoughts now for quite some time. So often have I heard fellow researchers speak of the tangible sense of empathetic empowerment, and indeed gratitude, felt in the midst of the qualitative interview. So often have I myself been moved by it. And yet, so often is this powerful experience relegated to an intriguing but decidedly secondary methodological side-note, or even footnote.
It is time, I believe, that the academy paid attention to the transformative potential contained in this fascinating footnote; time we begun to explore more thoroughly our societal vocation as the providers of a unique kind of space for generative thought, talk, and reflection; time that we turned our talk into conversation, and our conversation into reflection.