I have the winter off. I had last winter off, too. Its a pattern following seasonal work- work half a year of sixteen hour long days doing piece work, make a tonne of money, and then have the winter free to do as you please. I’ve always worked, a lot. Often two or three jobs at a time. I once worked a marathon of 77 days straight, mornings at a horse farm 6 days a week from 7:00 to 12:00, then evenings at a restaurant from 3:00 to 11 or midnight, squeezing two hours of riding in between shifts. I remember once in Toronto I was working shifts at a coffee shop downtown, then serving at a trendy diner three nights a week and working on the line at another restaurant three nights a week and doing Sunday brunch there, as well.
So now that I have a few consecutive months of downtime (other than the stint in Blyth and one disastrous ‘stage’ at a restaurant so filthy I bailed ship out the back door), I am not really sure what to do with my time. I have good intentions, to work on my book, to submit to all sorts of literary journals, to write short stories and essays and poems and to polish them. I crochet, and I want to set up an Etsy shop of lacey bookmarks and intricate bedspreads and reusable shopping bags. I’ve been foiled by the winter blues and depression and, not least of all, a feeling of guiltiness for having free time. “Productivity, productivity, productivity!” something internal screams when I curl up in the covers for another chapter of a book. I have a vague and distant memory of enjoying free time. Sweet, uninterrupted, pure leisure time. The Europeans have it right. I have this mental image of really, almost lewdly, enjoying a book over a cup of tea while wearing comfy pajamas and maybe watching a nature documentary while I crochet a few more afghan squares. There’ll be a snowstorm outside and nowhere to go. In reality, I find myself verging on panic, searching for something ‘to do’, something that needs to be done, something that is productive. And it really alarms me that I’ve lost that ability to just… be.
I wake up in the morning with this sort of automatic dread about how many hours of the day there are to fill up in front of me, and how to best use them, and how I shouldn’t dare waste any of them, and then proceed to waste them all by fretting about it and not doing anything except disassociate and feel guilty about not using them, thus perpetuating the cycle. I can really, viscerally remember waking up in the morning and being excited about how long the day was and all of the ways to fill it up, all of the possibilities to pursue joy.
I’m setting a resolution for the next few months before tree season for myself, and it is to be happy and do things that bring me joy, not to be productive. And when it doesn’t feel like work, I love writing and making and creating, but when I begin to frame it in a lens of “is it productive? What material benefit does this bring you?” it ceases to be joyful and is, I think, a really harmful way of approaching life.
I got so sucked up into money and dollar value and work equating personal value for a while that when I took a vacation from my cafe-manager job to go and spend a week on the beach, I didn’t even enjoy it. I felt stressed out the entire time and majorly dissociated. I had the long run in mind and panicked. “Oh fuck, they’ll think I’m lazy at work, and what if x,y,z don’t get done while I’m away, and I’ll never have enough money to retire and I’ll die in a nursing home, alone and senile, making crafts out of pom-poms and paper clips!” (actual train of thought). Anxiety consumed me. This was not new- I was an anxious child, teen and young adult. Tree-plant actually fixed me. No money, no plan, no problem. I don’t know where I’ll be this fall or where the money will be coming from or where I’ll live or who I will be with, and I’m ok with it- I might actually lust for it.
I have this really beautiful dream of having enough money this winter to hang out on my hypothetical sailboat (I think I’m going to have to name her “Hypothetical”) and just doing things that bring me joy. I’ll work parttime at a bakery and bicycle to work and make pastries and then spend the rest of my time reading books, knitting and having tree-friends visit me on the boat. It sounds fucking heavenly, but I have almost that same set-up now, and the free time comes across as torture.