Advice to my former self

I don’t do resolutions because I don’t really have a sense of time that’s as long as years – my understanding of the future is “forever” or “next week”, so the closing of one year and the opening of the new one seems to me as perplexing a thing to mark as the end of the week. It just passes. The past, though, is an interesting place. I’ve lived there and although my memories are rose-tinted I nonetheless have learned some things. Since in the next 12 months I’m turning 30 – a phrase that is deliberately vague – I am writing these things now because they will inevitably cause amusement for my future self.

it takes some time before it takes no time

It appears, as you get older, that things take longer. This is sort of true but also sort of not-true. Things have always taken a long time. Crashing directly into a relationship because you’ve got sexual chemistry doesn’t undo the need for the long-term work of actually working what they’re like. At the same time, when you’re young you’ve no barriers at all. You crash, trusting to the buoyancy of youth and the elasticity of your emotional state. Everything’s started to take longer as I’ve got older. It’s harder to bounce back – from everything. I used to eat fast food four nights a week, tend bar for 13 hours, and still have enough bounce and verve to be an obnoxious twat running about doing (and shouting) parkour.

Now? I did a reasonably intense session at the gym on Saturday and today, Wednesday, I’m starting to feel like I can squat without agony. I had a break up that took me a year to get over. I go to bed at 10pm latest and get up at 5.30 so I can get to the gym. Dating is now the kind of elaborate dance I made fun of old people for doing.

And yet.

I cracked out code for a problem in two days where it would have taken me twenty only five years ago. I gave advice to someone several years my junior that I only had because I’d struggled through the same situation before. Becoming somebody people trust enough to put forward for important roles; a friend that can be confided in; a person who is like…moderately good at the thing they’re doing: these things take time. You can get an approximation of knowledge by, for example, spending 20 hours a day for three weeks reading everything there is to know about a subject. You won’t be able to recall a single thing later. And I’m not shitting on my past self; he could do it so he did. But learning things well is a different joy, even if it means accepting that there’s no finish line.

It means you have to take a rest day between exercise. It means you have to sleep 8 hours. It means you need to examine, always, what you’re doing, what you’re thinking, because the process of unlearning all the phobias you get from your upbringing isn’t a once-and-done kind of gig. It’s just work, forever, but it’s worth it.

In Being and Nothingness, Sartre points out that if we agree that existence precedes essence – that you’ve not got a destiny or a fate, you just become what you are through becoming – then what you do is what you are. He draws on his own experience as a gambling addict and remarks that he will only continue not to be a gambler if he resolves to do so every day. And so being becomes a full-time occupation and also completely ethereal. If I am going to be a good friend, then I have to resolve to do that every day: I have to find good habits and I have to do them. Declaring that I am destined to be a good friend – or that I am supposed to be with someone – or that I am a writer – will do no more good than Sisyphus, at the bottom of the hill, declaring that he will push his boulder to the summit. One becomes these things through doing them. And that means that I’m not the same person I was. I’m someone different today, and I could be someone different again tomorrow.[mfn]I’m confident this is where philosophy collides horribly with science and actually people do have a core personality, but what’s the point of having a degree in French literature if you can’t occasionally quote Being and Nothingness?[/mfn]

Going more slowly has opened up so much more for me that I can’t imagine going back to the breakneck pace I used to maintain. Becoming takes longer than appearing, but it lasts.

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