The weather this summer has been nothing short of schizophrenic. What days we haven’t endured pissing rain we’ve experienced record high temperatures and heat waves. And my tolerance for sunshine is nothing if not contextual. Hot weather is great if I’m slugging margs poolside with a couple chicks, but it’s not so great if I’m scrubbing dishes in a congested kitchen. And at the moment I’m more often in the latter scenario. I’ll be wheezing like a 60-year old chain-smoker while the stack of crockery at my side increases in direct proportion to my anxiety, feeling as I do the moist warmth of steam on my face from the scalding dishwater below, vaguely aware of a fly circling my head, the waitress fanning herself in the corner with a menu, the head chef wiping his bald head with a paper towel. You feel heat more acutely when you work in a kitchen. And when a big table decides to order five minutes before we close, it adds on a good 10 degrees I swear.
The best walks home are ones where I can feel the cold. Sometimes I can’t because I’m sweating too much, but when I’m gifted a breeze, I feel liberated from my shift and free to think. The darker and colder it is, the more my thoughts seem like uncaged animals. As I’ve said many times on this blog, I’ve often struggled simply to exist in one time and place. And when I get that weightless feeling that characterizes the transition from a hothouse kitchen to a breezy night, my suspended thoughts gallop away in all directions. In these moments I feel infinite, as though I exist outside of time, and it’s like my life is a movie that I’ve now paused in order to figure out what the fuck is going on.
One of the ideas I go over a lot on these nighttime walks is my own sense of inertia. I wonder if I’m living my life according to any sense of direction or purpose. How much of my day to day behavior constitutes a calculated effort towards a coherent plan? When people ask me what I’m doing with my life, is my answer more often than not a hasty attempt to deflect societal judgement, as well as my own self-doubt? I have to tell them I know what I’m doing. I have to tell myself the same thing. At the pub I work with a lot of teenagers. I’m surrounded by youthful energy, and I wonder if it has triggered something in my subconscious. This idea that I’m not quite ready to break away from being a kid.
When I was the same age as a lot of my friends at work, making the jump from school to university, it was okay not to have a plan. And if you did have a plan, it was okay for that plan to be lofty and somewhat intangible. The future seemed like a destination to which we would never actually arrive. All I’d ever known was youth. From my earliest days at school to my last days at college I’d been told over and over that I had my whole life ahead of me. There didn’t seem to be any real difference between being, say, an eight year old and a nineteen year old, except that now my bollocks had an afro. Adulthood seemed just as far away to me as I printed my dissertation in the University of Winchester student library as it did to me playing “Heads Down, Thumbs Up” in primary school. It seemed so far away, in fact, that I always imagined that adulthood would arrive on a particular day at a particular time. I pictured a massive office building with the word “Adulthood Inc.” above the glass doors, and you’d go in and be given an ID card and a starter pack.
Of course, you don’t realize when you’ve arrived at the destination. You’ve been there for a while before you even realize you’re there at all. And sadly there’s no starter pack to adult life; you’ve just got to figure it out as best you can. All of a sudden you’re not young anymore, which might sound like a strange sentiment for a 26 year old to have. Fuck knows how bleak the tone of these blog posts are going to be when I’m fifty. I know I’m still “young” in the context of the average human lifespan- I’m not disputing that. What I’m trying to say is that my perception of life has changed from what it once was; everything seems finite now. Time seems to go by faster than it ever did before, which I know from conversations with my grandma is a phenomenon that only gets more intense with age. I spent my whole childhood wishing time would hurry up so I could leave school and be free- free I thought, to live exactly the kind of life I wanted and mold every aspect of it according to my desires. But now that I’m an adult I don’t feel particularly free. Time has finally decided to speed up, and all I want now is for it to slow the hell down.
The reason for all this existential melodrama is that all of a sudden we’re in the autumn of the year. I’m starting to think about the legacy and character of 2019. Just one year ago today I was nursing the worst hangover of my life in my best friend’s dad’s garage. I’d done something I’d never done before- I’d gone on a three-day drinking binge in Green Bay, WI whilst celebrating the wedding of my two closest friends. Any one of those three consecutive nights could be considered the drunkest I’ve ever been, and the morning after the wedding I woke up with a headache like I’d been violated by a gang of chimpanzees on MDMA. It seems like just yesterday I was watching the bride opening gifts with the Packer game in the background, as my belly protested the food I tried to give it, my skin running cold and green with the shivers.
And when I think about it, physical weakness might be one of the things I remember most vividly from this past year. Since the wedding I’ve had my misbehaving ears syringed with oil and pumped with furious jets of water to remove the buildup of wax, I’ve had a couple spinal adjustments to treat the stiff pain in my shoulder blades, and my eyesight’s gotten so lousy I’m blanking people I should be saying hello to and greeting strangers I’m mistaking for someone else. Yesterday I played competitive football for the first time in ages, maybe years. It was just like when we were teenagers, and we’d spy another group of lads kicking a ball around on the opposite end of the field. The two groups would pretend not to notice each other, all the while sizing each other up, before inevitably dispatching an envoy to request a match. In this case we played 3-vs-3 with rush-goalies.
At first, when I had the ball at my feet, and a fresh-faced 18-year-old with a slack jaw and an excitable spirit came to close me down, I felt like I had to think through my course of action instead of instinctively doing it. It came from a lack of confidence to perform certain tasks- an accurate pass, a convincing step-over trick, a powerful shot. Instead of having a general “feel” for where my teammates were, or where I stood in relation to the goal, I felt like I had to look up and check, and that if I did so, I would then be tackled. Everything seemed to take that extra second or two- which in sports is so important. My trademark move when I was younger was to push the ball past someone and run onto it. I’d be relying on sheer pace rather than trickery. It was a simple, direct course of action, but I usually had a feel for when it would work and when it wouldn’t. And once I’d rushed past the defender, I’d be away. I tried this move yesterday, and for a split second it seemed to work- I’d gotten past him, and the space was there, but I was so slow that my opponent had the time to turn around and beat me in a footrace to the ball. I was running down the wing as fast as my fat ass would go, and I could feel my gut bouncing like I was wearing a fanny pack overloaded with spare change. Without even realizing it, I did something I used to hate other players doing when I was younger: having realized he was going to beat me to the ball, I reached out my arm in frustration and tried to push him away. Yep, I was that asshole.
What has stood out for me this year- aside from these niggling episodes of fragility- is that I’ve been pretty consistent (for better or for worse). I’ve stuck with the same job all year, as opposed to jumping in and out of temp work like an indecisive manwhore, and I’ve resisted the temptation to blow my earnings on spontaneous trips abroad. I decided at the beginning of the year that I didn’t want to travel just for the sake of it. It had to be something I really wanted to do. There are plenty of places I’d like to see, but I don’t feel the need to see them right now. This has been the first year of my life that I’ve focused almost entirely on saving money. And while that’s not particularly exciting, it might not necessarily be a bad thing. I think this is a big part of the sense of inertia I feel on my nighttime walks- I’ve never really committed to one thing for an extended period of time before. I’m so used to living a stop-start lifestyle, which can be fun but which definitely has its drawbacks. As I’m getting older, that approach feels less legitimate.
I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made since I graduated university five years ago, but I’ve always been the kinda guy that wants to have his cake and eat it. I think that is human nature however- to fret obsessively over the road less traveled. I know I’m guilty of looking back when I should be focused on what’s ahead, but I can’t help but wonder if that makes me thoroughly normal. Let me know in the comments if you’ve experienced similar thoughts, because I’m genuinely curious.