We fool ourselves all the time that this situation, this person, or this moment is permanent. We waste time on other things, sometimes literally anything else, no matter how bizarre, rather than focusing on what matters most – whether that’s your kid being cute, or the novel that you need to write, or the table you want to build. It’s like you think you don’t deserve to be happy right here, right now.
I’ve noticed that I have a need to distract myself, to obsfucate, to muddy the waters in case I see too deep. In case I actually, accidentally, focus on something worthwhile. I skim along the surface like a water boatman, distracted by a million flies. I’m annoyed at the car in front of me, the person in front of me, the incident that should be behind me, while the important stuff waits patiently for tomorrow, because I promised it that tomorrow I would get to it, pay attention to it, appreciate it, be there for it, grow it, nurture it. I work too hard, or too long, at the wrong things. I struggle out of each moment, wriggle out of it, so that I can worry about the other shit. I jump out of the river of life and land in the rancid swamp of “what if” and I lay there on my back, wallowing. What if the gutters overflow and the the rainwater makes the foundations unsafe? What if I don’t buy the organic oranges and my child gets cancer?
Sometimes I spend the day worrying. Sometimes I spend the day wandering the house: pacing, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for a time when I can get on with the thing I should be getting on with. Even though nothing is stopping me from getting on with it in that moment, right then and there. I’ll check the football news (soccer to my Canadian friends). I’ll clean the kitchen. I’ll eventually find something to worry about. Or even be angry about. Sometimes I’ll spend the whole day pacing, and wonder why my legs ache in the evening.
Time slips by, and whether you’re an anxious mess full of obsessive thoughts, or down the pub every night drowning out the voices, you’re distracting yourself. Because you don’t think you deserve to do the thing that makes you happy. Truly happy. Joyous. You’re scared to go there, even. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. I don’t want to speak for you, but I know it’s true, and I know you don’t want to admit it. That career you really want, the life decision you can’t take, the things that drain you of all of your creative juices. All of your life-blood. All that wasted time. All those wrong turns, decisions made, energy wasted.
Don’t wait for a wake up call, an epiphany. “I’m not going to lose a moment more,” I say, after a loved one dies or a milestone passes by. That usually lasts about a week, maybe a month, or even a year or so if the shock is big enough. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can be changed in some fundamental way. Woken up. But don’t wait. Make time now. Do it. Right now. If you don’t, your full of shit, and you know it.
Harsh? Maybe. We’re all finding our way. All on a journey. You won’t hear me until you’re ready. Or you’ll listen and nod, and be determined, but then you won’t change anything. I’ve been there. But maybe, just maybe, reading this will trigger something.
Because there’s life, and then you die. And in between you really should consider doing the things that you were meant to be doing all along.
Life’s a Journey, Don’t Pull the Emergency Chord
Years ago I lived above a public house in London. It was a big building, right next to a mental hospital and the clientele were rough. Proper rough. Like, criminal rough. Gang rough. Stab you as soon as look at you rough. Which is weird, because it was next to Hampstead Heath, which is a good area, I think, although the Heath itself has a history as a den of inequity. The room I shared with my girlfriend at the time was dank, dingy, and damp. The shared shower and kitchen were well past demolition status. During our tenure there my girlfriend shaved her head, possibly out of a deep-seated resentment toward our situation. Why am I telling you this? I’m not sure, but I think it’s because I often reflect on where I have been – above that pub and elsewhere, always two moves away from penury – and how impossible it seemed to me then that I would ever be where I am now.
Now, I am married to a beautiful woman, I have a beautiful child, I own a house that my wife makes beautiful. We have a dog. I have a respectable, if not exactly permanent job at a local college. When I wandered the Heath, devoid of purpose, skin and bones and nothing in my pocket, already in my thirties, I would never have dreamed of all that I have now. Yet I feel I must’ve dreamed.
I know that I dreamed of writing, but didn’t know where or how to start. What kinds of things I should write, and how I should go about writing them, and what I should do with them once they were written. I read Hunter. S. Thompson and copied his style and wished I had lived a life like his, instead of my own drab one. I never gave up, that’s for sure. I pushed forward, for a short period with the help of anti-depressants, true, and there was a man in Amsterdam, who wore a white coat and was missing a finger, who told me about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Still, it was me that kept putting one foot in front of the other.
I didn’t know then about the power of affirmations, meditation, visualization. But I must’ve utilized those things in some way. I always felt, deep down, that something would turn up, if I looked far and hard enough. I had to go to Korea to find my Canadian wife, and to Canada to start our family. I had to go to Teachers’ College to find out I was good at being a teacher, but that I wanted to be a writer, still. And now I visualize myself as a published author, successful, acclaimed even. Travelling far and wide for research and maybe a little teaching, as my writing will concentrate on anxious matters, and there are many people in the world who need to learn how to cope with those. I realize also, now, that my life wasn’t drab, and that written down it may even have sounded romantic to me had I read it about someone else. A starving artist. Except I wasn’t an artist. I didn’t dedicate myself to sitting down and writing. I didn’t believe in myself enough for that. I had to do other things before I could believe that I too could be successful, that I too could do whatever it was that I actually wanted to do. That I deserved, that I’m deserving. I had to prove myself too…er…myself.
You deserve more, but what’s happening right now is meant to be. This is your journey, and it’s all about the journey. Even if you’re travelling coach and the window is dirty and the man next to you has body odour issues, try to see past the smell and the dirt to the green fields and the trees and the sunshine that are whizzing by. And enjoy. You have to be there right now, next to the smelly man, because you’re going somewhere, and when you’re ready, you’ll get off the train and…well, I think that’s enough of that metaphor.
Now, I write every day, and when my ADHD kicks in and I start doing a million other things instead, all I need to do is force myself to sit down and write the first sentence that comes into my head, and the rest of the million disconnected thoughts disappear, or reformulate themselves to make some sort of sense on the screen. Just like the phrase ”Just get on the mat” for yoga. Just get on the mat, just sit down and write, or draw, or design, or build, or code, or or whatever it is you really want to do. Because the gap from here to there may be a big one, but if you’re brave you can make the leap, and sometimes you can gird your loins and make the long clamber up the side of the ditch, crawl along the valley floor, and tramp slowly up the side of the mountain. Just don’t stop until you reach the peak. You deserve it.