We had a pretty uneventful Christmas. Just the same as every other person who comes back into the office a few days after New Year, I’m sure we both fell into the same patter of “Yeah, quiet one for us, stayed at home”. I vaguely envy the people who post pictures of their family Christmas adventures to Jordan or Oman, but at the same time, it confuses me. Christmas is pretty much the only time I have no desire for adventure, but every desire to flip through recipe books, and this year made what the kids described as “mega jelly” (in fact, they shrieked this to passing cars while out on their bikes, which was mildly embarrassing as I was too far behind them with the baby to stop them, and every driver stopped, thinking something rather more dramatic than a large jelly was happening).
Anyway, so in the midst of all this chaos, I reflected on the fact that I don’t on a daily basis have any time for creative things. When I say “no time”, I mean I spend that time consuming other people’s creative endeavours. And I decided that we should see what happens if we take January off TV entirely – no Netflix, no Amazon Prime, no iPlayer, no bog-standard broadcast channels.
In my head, this brings us closer together as a couple; we sit contemplatively listening to music, exchanging information about each others’ day, make a bit of time for our respective hobbies. In some respects, this is indeed the reality of it. We have done a big jigsaw together, flipped around playlists, talked about whether chillout music is wanky (yes), played chess, played piano, done my taxes three weeks before the deadline, tidied all sorts of clutter. This should all leave us feeling…smug? Self-fulfilled? Reverting to all the multitude of endless activities we did in our teenage years with our boundless energy?
Well, it probably comes as no surprise to find this isn’t the case. We do go to bed very early, and I have got through a large number of books on my Kindle. But we connect less with each other, rather than more. Our time in front of the screen mainly consists of a running commentary of the characters, and often the flimsiness of the plot. We love to be absorbed and captivated, but we also love to spot the moment make-believe parts company with plausibility. Sometimes, we can quite happily do both, and enrich ourselves in the process. Anything that is set or made when we were young, or deals with the whole craziness that is being 20-something, is ripe for a general discussion of the past, of its real and imagined benefits and drawbacks. We loved Lovesick, not because either of us ever lived that life of promiscuity, but because as a show, its characters are so good at illustrating the paradox of lust and love, those things that are so easily confused, because they sometimes merge and overlap and then part again, and sometimes never meet at all. At 42, that time of teetering uncertainty and the strength of the highest high and the lowest low is a feeling I cannot quite picture myself in, but of course I desire its darkness and ambiguity.
I have lost count of the number of long conversations we’ve had about the metaphors of science fiction. The question of whether our bodies are more than “skins” from Altered Carbon, the hugely disturbing depiction of mental illness in Nighflyers, the beauty of Annihalation, obviously the endless talking points of Black Mirror, the pedestrian family fun of Lost In Space, the joy of 76 episodes of shiny good looking Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t really get Firefly, Richard refused to watch the Handmaid’s Tale (and there was only so much I could watch while expecting). There are such endless tales to watch unfold, it doesn’t always matter that they have flaws. Some had too little story to keep going (Better than Us, Series 2 onwards of Stranger Things, Travelers), the writer fail (Helix), some are good executions of the familiar rogue robot/God theme (I am Mother), some expect an encyclopaedic recall of Series 1 when Series 2 airs eighteen months later (The Man in the High Castle).
They are all about some variant of time, control, technology, space, what the meaning of humanity is. Along with various relationship comedies like Sex Education or You (get a PIN on your phone FFS), nostalgia (The Dark Crystal 2), they give us common ground to talk about our views of the world, to reconfirm how much of it we share.
Without any such reverie, I seem to be left on my own with my rushing, jumbled thoughts, which descend upon my nightmares. After another sleepless night, I sat on the train to work talking about the hideous convergence of shame, fear and failure that I can’t manage, and convinced myself that whatever happened at the end of Russian Doll was the answer to all my difficulties. Only it turns out – after refreshing my memory on Google – the only escape from the time loop is confronting the past and the character’s feelings of shame and failure.