“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” – David Foster Wallace
When I was a girl, I remember this M&M’s commercial they’d play on Saturdays while I was watching Punky Brewster and Smurfs cartoons and eating Mr. T cereal. It was always tweens hanging out at the mall, eating peanut M&M’s, laughing, flirting, not being at school, wearing lots of acid wash denim, being nonchalantly cool, and having the best goddamn time of their lives. At the mall. With no adults. Where boys and lip gloss could freely intermingle in the dark arcade. Where $5 could get me a slice of pizza and a tiny bag of glittery stickers and temporary tattoos. Where we’d be left alone for hours on end, because nothing bad ever happened back then.
Now, when I get that giddy ‘something amazing is about to happen’ feeling, I sometimes remember that ‘almost summer, just any day now’ vibe I’d get the last few weeks of school when Mom would pick me and my friends up in the Jeep, having taken the top off and left the doors in the garage for the duration. There’s nothing more exciting to a ten-year-old just out the door of elementary school than riding around in a convertible, wearing a pink miniskirt, listening to Purple Rain so all your friends can bask in your exquisite coolness. My Jeep driving mom was cool. I was cool. My friends were cool. We cursed and called radio stations and listened to rap music. We were about to summer the fuck out of some summer. There was going to be swimming and amusement parks and roller skating and all the books and music I could take in. Christopher Pike and George Michael. Judy Blume and Depeche Mode. Both Salt and Pepa. Summer camp. Boys. Ice cream.
Even then, I reveled in anticipation. I’d certainly enjoy a thing less if I didn’t get to ramp myself up for it for weeks ahead of time. There’s generally never a time when I haven’t got several events lined up, a couple trips on the horizon, festivals, dinners, parties, plans plans plans. I’ll plan you into next year. Anticipation is like anxiety for good. It’s pretty much the main catalyst in sexual desire. It’s standing on the edge of a feeling, imagining how amazing it will be when it happens. It’s teasing yourself with all the possibilities, and ignoring the certain doom of what happens when it’s over.
I’m sure he wasn’t the first, but John Lennon is quoted as having said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So many of our life’s memories are big moments, those special days that stand out at the peaks and troughs of joy and despair. We forget that most of our time is spent in between. Our days, most of our days, are rather unremarkable indeed. They stack upon one another like pages in a book, so that we may not remember them individually, but just as an essence. That was the year I began practicing yoga. That was the year my heart was broken. That was the month I fell in love. That was the year I got this job or moved into that house or when everything changed completely.
As we get further from those experiences, even the essence starts to fade. So as we grow older, the book starts to fall apart and we forget when those big things happened exactly.
When you start to look at the science of subjective time perception, it becomes fascinating and then horrifying as you realize what the long-term studies say around how we feel and experience time.
“If long-term time perception is based solely on the proportionality of a person’s age, then the following four periods in life would appear to be quantitatively equal: age 5 to 10 (1x), age 10 to 20 (2x), age 20 to 40 (4x), age 40 to 80 (8x).”
So, by the time we’re 40, the next 40 years FEELS the same length as the previous 20. Every month, every day, while sometimes longish seeming, flutter by like grains of sand in an hourglass of time. It’s always running out, and going faster.
We blink, a year has passed. We’re 21. We’re 27. We’re 30. We’re 35. We’re 38.
These normal every days slip through our fingers in minutes and seconds spent in teeth brushing, coffee ritual, sipping through a few hours of work and emails and quick chats with a friend about the weekend plans, heated up frozen lunch (that delightful winter soup from January), small talk with co-workers about their kids and spouses and obligations. Five. Drive. Perhaps a class, an hour away from screens, a short connection with the physical body, a practice, breath. Cooking. TV. Hobbies, perhaps a night out with a friend or someone new. Sleep. Rinse. Repeat. It’s January. It’s March. It’s August. It’s Christmas. Happy New Year.
This life is so unbelievably fucking short.
The other side of all that anticipation is the let down when the magical, special, memorable time comes to an end. Even when I was as young as five or six, on Sunday afternoons when my friends would leave and go home after our all-night Monopoly marathons fueled by Coca-Cola and Mr. Goodbars, I would be inconsolable. I never wanted the times with them to end. I knew in theory there would always be more sleepovers and I’d see them at school and we were friends, but I would get so sad. I was always alone again, and I did all my best work when I wasn’t, it seemed.
Now, I still get sad when trips end, when the party is over, when the last band turns out the lights and everyone goes back home. I turn the routine back on and make the coffee and feel like a lonely five-year-old talking to her red stuffed elephant on a yellow and green shag carpet.
I know that doom gloom well. We can’t stay in the twilight forever. Dawn always comes. The sun always rises. And I don’t want to spend even one day moping around in dark rooms being sad over things I can’t have, when I have have so much. I have the sun, and the air, and the sky and the stars and the moon, every day, I just have to go outside myself. So much of our suffering comes from wanting things to be other than they are.
The trick, I’ve learned, is to make your everyday life a robust, musical, enjoyable place to be. Make friends with your solitude. Be your own best friend and you are never truly alone. It’s hard to be sad when you come home to a place you love. Whatever pain we encounter, whatever story we are trying to write, whoever’s face is in our mind at night and in the mornings, those things don’t define us. Time is passing. We are getting older, and it’s going to be okay. There is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt. When you stop trying to steer and just let go, you see that things are always just as they are meant to be. Whatever the next thing is that comes will reveal itself to you. You just have to go outside.