Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Months Go By Like Weeks

Picture yourself sitting in a pull-along wagon perched atop a hill with a gentle slope. You hold on tight to the upright handle. A light wind inches you forward. The front two wheels reach the decline and gravity pulls the rest of the wagon onto the slope. The wagon crawls down the hill. Its wheels squeak with each rotation. At this snail's pace it's easy to take in the scenery around you, and so you admire and study it all. You're able to see and appreciate all the little things.

Your speed gradually increases as you roll further down the hill. You take the wagon's handle and twist it to one side or another, forcing the wheels to turn. You can veer left or right, but without brakes you're always going down and you're always moving a little faster with each passing moment.

The bottom of hill is nowhere to be seen. You keep going faster and faster. After some time the scenery is passing by so quickly that it becomes harder to appreciate the little things. That's okay though, because with how quickly you're moving you're now able to appreciate the bigger picture. Rather than see the individual leaves on a tree, you can see how the entire forest is shaped by the geography and climate around it.

Your speed increases. You're heading toward the unseen bottom faster than ever...

That hill is your life, where distance equals time.

I remember being young. I remember when days were long, months were packed to the brim, and summer lasted forever. Like I suppose happens to everyone, my perception of time has changed as I've gotten older. Every year comes and goes a bit faster than the one before, forcing me to adapt as I'm no longer able to spend as much focus on things that once ruled my life.

This year, however, it doesn't feel like I'm rolling down the hill a bit faster than before. It feels like the wagon has fallen off a cliff and I'm in free fall.

Days go by so quickly that I have trouble keeping track of which one it is. Weeks come and go with me struggling to remember what even happened. I flip my wall calendar to a new month before I even get a chance to look at the picture. I panic.

There are reasons for this phenomenon, of course. You can learn more about it in articles such as this one, but the gist is that we remember unique experiences more vividly than familiar ones, so the fewer new experiences you have, the faster time will appear to move. How this works with aging is that everything is new to a child, but adults see and do fewer new things every year and are mostly stuck in routines. On top of that, any quantity of time is going to seem smaller to someone who's experienced more of it in the same way that a pond will seem huge to someone who's never see an ocean.

However, these reasons alone don't explain why 2019 seems to be flying by faster than ever. In this case, I believe it has something to do with expectations. You see, as a new father to a beautiful, funny, adorable baby girl, I have less time to spend on activities that I would otherwise measure my year by, such as how many movies I've watched or how many weekend hikes or vacations I've been on. Coincidentally, even my lunch breaks at work—the only times I'm not really responsible for anything but myself—are mostly confined to either doing freelance work or running for exercise this year, where they used to be full of reading for pleasure or walking around to discover new nooks of my city. As a result, the expectations I've always set for myself ("do X amount of Y this year") are proving to be wildly unattainable in this new stage of life, so whenever I look at the date I can't help but feel like time is somehow escaping me.

"It can't be August already! I'm still in the middle of reading the fifth Harry Potter!"

But my life isn't what it used to be, so I need adapt my way of thinking to something like this:
  • I have not been able to write the second draft of my novel this year as I'd hoped. I haven't even started.
  • I still need to write this year's version of The Woods.
  • I have not made the time to write in my blog nearly as much as I used to this year.
  • I'm still not a published author.
But that doesn't mean that I haven't been busy with creative writing.
  • I have not watched as many new movies or re-watched as many favorites as I'd like to.
  • I'm constantly playing catch-up with television shows, both new and old.
  • I have so many video games I've started and not yet beaten.
  • I'm just barely keeping up with my book reading goal rather than outpacing it.
But that doesn't mean that I haven't had fun and spent time relaxing.
  • I don't have time to do all the things I loved to do.
  • I'm struggling to sustain relationships with all of my friends.
  • My life will never be like it was before.
But that doesn't mean my life as it exists now is less wonderful or worth enjoying, or that I'd trade it in for any dose of the past.

I'm an optimist. I believe that it's important to make the best of whatever I've got. While it can be very difficult to adapt to change, there's typically little or nothing to be gained from resisting it.

That's why I'm writing this blog post. I need to put into words this chronic feeling I've been experiencing all year, unpack the meaning underneath it, and learn what to do with it so I can finally move forward. I've been just feeling it for too long to ignore it any longer. I need to make the best of it.

Here is the lesson I am teaching myself:

It's alright to miss the way things were. It's alright to feel like I've lost some part of my life that may never return. It's alright to be scared. To resist that feeling would be to fight my own humanity. But it's important to not let that feeling dictate my life. It's important to keep on living in the present. It's important to enjoy the new things while they last.

As a character named Andy Bernard from The Office once said; "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them."

My lesson to myself is that these are the good old days, because someday everything will change and I'll yearn for this time—right now. You don't know what you have until it's gone.

I hope you're all having a great year so far. Don't let it pass you by.