Getting back to business!

Like an old dog I am comfortable with old habits, among them getting back to business. Thirteen years of school, eight years of university and forty years of working didn’t exactly prepare me for a life of indolence. I prefer putting things in order, taking care of what needs to be done. It’s time to put away the empty-headed holiday mindset for another year. Frankly it is a bromide for the hysteria of Christmas and the New Year. Though we can hardly be said to have drowned in the seasonal ambitions, the contamination howsoever slight is impossible to avoid. Re-engaging with the routine and comparatively tedious mechanics of life has both a practical and stabilizing effect. Instead of dreamily planning social engagements, dinner parties, family rendezvous, gifts, decorations or what to wear, the substantive agenda of groceries, diet, exercise, personal and property maintenance and generally putting one’s affairs in order can at last be reclaimed. Even if it is nothing more than a purgatory it is a necessary and welcome transition, a dusting-off.

For some lucky people the emergence from the constraining obligations of the festive season will be the reward of a holiday, a treat just for oneself not others. I long ago learned that calculated relaxation is an important ingredient of the recipe for success. Having that prospect on the horizon assures a renewed buoyancy. We today planned a short jaunt to Daytona Beach Shores (population was 4,247 at the 2010 census). As the name suggests Daytona Beach Shores is located nearby the renowned Daytona Beach. But the Shores is considerably more sedate. Of course it still enjoys the benefit of what locals have told me is a beach superior to that of Fort Lauderdale (and frankly I’m inclined to agree).  Besides Daytona Beach Shores is only 4½ hours along Interstate 95 from our current roost on Hilton Head Island. We have however decided to detour from the freeway shortly before Jacksonville (which is a large metropolis) to connect with A1A at Neptune Beach then head directly south along the Atlantic Ocean shore. The purpose of this protraction is to see more of the traditional Florida landscape including in particular the usual low-rise vacation resorts, social clubs, casual restaurants and local beach retailers. While the larger urban centres of Florida have undeniably changed and modernized over the past five decades, there still remain undisturbed enclaves of Florida which are nostalgically reminiscent of the 1950s culture with their coral and pastel colours, low-profile social scene and tropical architecture.

Further local evidence abounds of the return to business in the New Year.  For one thing the tourist traffic here has abated noticeably. In particular vacationing families with children have precipitously abandoned the Island to return to school.  The racks of bicycles in the parking lots and driveways of resorts have evaporated overnight. There is never a problem getting a table at a restaurant. The bike paths are empty; the beach is a vacant expanse of sand. Because November – February is “off-season” for Hilton Head Island this place rapidly becomes the sole preserve of local residents and the snowbirds who make it their winter retreat.

Not uncommonly early January here (as practically everywhere else) is notable for its retail sales. Today I visited one establishment in particular, a local sole-proprietor jewellery store.  Several years ago I met the aging, kindly owner. Recently he informed me that he is retiring and closing his store in February.  As I suspected the store was promoting a massive discount sale. Over 40 years of antique jewellery reserves were pulled from the dusty vault and put on melancholic display. The account of this business change is not without its qualifications.  The owner shared with me that business has been in a steady downward spiral.  Apparently young people – who he says have no concern for quality or service or anything other than price and immediate delivery – are choosing instead to shop on-line through the likes of Amazon or other retailers which have no “bricks and mortar”. Disappointingly the owner was unsuccessful in selling his business to anyone, including his long-time and highly qualified employee who of course loses her job but says she cannot afford the risk of buying the business and running it in this economic climate. The employee told me today that she speculates the demise of the business is illustrative of the prospects of “mom and pop” businesses generally, that “big box” stores are squeezing out the “little guy”. She echoed the disparaging demise of concern for quality.

The notorious depression accompanying this time of year has yet to be endured. Apart from what for many people is the incomparably miserable weather, personal reflection upon life often promotes even greater wretchedness. It amounts to the business of the hour to address the distressing facts of life which possibly have been suppressed. It’s time to straighten up and fly right. The uncompromising posture needed to tackle these matters is part of getting back to business. It is a moment of reckoning, a catharsis. The good news is that unless one is prepared to settle for deceit, dealing with frozen reality is far healthier. Getting back to business is all about priorities, confronting truths, seeking ways of resolving dilemmas and ridding oneself of the baggage of worry.

New Year’s resolutions are only one aspect of this agenda.  Resolutions may work for some people but I am more persuaded by merely casting off unnecessary distraction and putting one’s nose to the grindstone. Focus is the answer. The intensity required for such attention necessitates an elimination of fluff. It is useful to be guided in this conduct by the reliable Protestant work ethic, pragmatic Calvinism often credited with helping to define the societies of Germanic Europe, such as in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Getting back to work isn’t a universal elixir but it can at least temporarily steady the craft for a smoother sail.