The Vacuum

Happy New Year!

Wales. Christmas Eve. No bicycle.

Sorry for the silence. Sometimes life gets in the way. And I forget people actually read this.

I’m just about to go back to work, after two weeks off the bike. This is my longest break for… well over a year. Curiously, it hasn’t affected me too badly. I expected to be climbing the walls by now. Taking time off is always difficult. You know that the rest will do you good, and that sitting around all day, eating far too much and sleeping 10 hours a night is just what you need to recuperate, and to build up your reserves for the next few months, but that doesn’t stop you going crazy with guilt and cabin fever.

One of the most interesting things about taking time off is that you realize how many of your resources are ordinarily absorbed by the job. It’s not just that you spend 10 hours a day on the bike; post-work exhaustion means that your evenings – and at least half of the weekend – are spent doing little more than eating and sleeping. The weather makes a difference too – it’s been pretty ferocious over the past month, and I’ve noticed that I lose an hour every evening on snowy days. I’m so exhausted that I can’t function after about 9pm, and have to go to bed. And this exhaustion doesn’t only lead to an unclean house and a neglected social life – it also narrows your intellectual and emotional horizons. I don’t understand how some people manage to go home and study after a day on the road. I couldn’t.

So I’ve been anxiously watching myself over the holidays, wondering what would surface in my mind and body without the exhaustion there to hold it down. The fact that I didn’t get as bored and depressed as I expected – and that, despite eating just as much as I do when I’m working, and perhaps even a bit more, I don’t seem to have got much fatter – suggests that I really was in need of a break.

I did find I had a bit of an emotional backlog I hadn’t noticed building up, and took advantage of the spare time and energy to sit down and think my way through it. And to catch up on a few books and films I wouldn’t have had time for otherwise. And to spend some wonderful and well overdue time with family and friends. And to tidy my room (and finish unpacking from when I moved in last May, ahem).

But mostly I’ve just been sitting around. That’s what I’ve been doing all day today, trying to stave off another nasty sore-throaty headachey thing, because work starts again tomorrow, and there’s no way I’m taking another day off. It’s amazing just how much time you can spend doing nothing at all. I try to ignore the guilt, and to forget about all the incredible things I could be achieving if I got dressed and went outside, and wonder whether this isn’t our natural state as humans, or at least what we all aspire to, once the buffalo has been slaughtered, the firewood gathered, the spearheads sharpened and the cave hoovered. Or maybe we just need empty space once in a while – not only to give our minds and bodies a rest, but also because (as years of wrestling with Salman Rushdie and Homi Bhabha have taught me) it is from the spaces in between things that newness emerges into the world.

Not that I have any idea what my mind and body might have come up with over the past two weeks. But it’ll be lots of fun finding out.

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6 Responses to “The Vacuum”

  1. Peter F Says:

    that’s an amazing use of Bhaba/Rushdie at the end. Amazing. I’m going to get a OMG-I’ll-have-finished-my-thesis holiday at the start of February, and I’m well looking forward to see what newnesses the spaces inbetween things…

    • thatmessengerchick Says:

      Ha! I read your comment and marvelled at the bookishness of my readership before I realized it was you. Good luck for the rest of the thesis. May try and talk you into a guest post at some point.

  2. Nick Says:

    What we need instead of activity in winter is quite simple actually – HIBERNATION! Or at least I do.

  3. welshcyclist Says:

    I agree with alot of what you say. my commuting involves a 15 hour mday, most people think I’m mad to do it, but I’d go mad without my daily 3 hours on the bike. Hope you enjoyed your stay in Wales, whereabouts were you?

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