Monday, 15 October 2012

The past that was like a dream

Four years ago I was in England, exactly a month after my 40th birthday. It was the last day in England before flying off to the USA for two conferences to speak at, connected together by a month traveling in a 7,000 mile loop by Amtrak. I'm (slowly) turning a diary from that trip and related content into some form of e-book. Partially to get some kind of neat filing and closure on it.

Even with the aide-memoire of Flickr, I'm struggling to remember that day. Apart from lunch with a colleague from back in the day, Andy Powell from Eduserv, in Demuths in Bath Spa.

And a nice lunch it was too.

Veggie lunches

Suspecting I was excitedly distracted about the forthcoming travels to America, and nudging myself to actually do the presentation slides (both sets were eventually put together the day before they were presented). And over lunch, discussing the Virtual World Watch project with Andy, who had recently agreed the funding. Oh (remembers) we definitely talked about the drawing up of life plans as we'd done similar exercises (him through a work thing, me through sitting on an Outer Hebrides beach for a long time and having the occasional very cold swim).

The day after the lunch was Heathrow, then a long flight over the Atlantic, Greenland and some of the USA to Los Angeles, and an airport hotel. And then the journey, through Santa Monica, California, Seattle, Montana, Gotham City, a certain election winner, Memphis, Graceland, then following the Mississippi to New Orleans, then Texas, El Paso, Arizona and a load of other places in between, then returning to LA. Finishing, as several of my trips to the USA were engineered to, at the Getty.

I occasionally look at the pictures, and the writings, from that trip. It seems a bit dreamlike at times (did I really do and see all those things?); four years and four subsequent trips to the USA, for very different reasons, perhaps makes that understandable. As well as other things done in the intervening time.

But the trip around the US was then, and this is now. In the scheme of things, four years is not a long time. It's the exact length of one US presidential term (oddly, I'm as pessimistic as Obama winning in a few weeks now as at this point four years ago). Less time than you spend at secondary school, or primary school. Less time than it takes to get pretty good at many skills.


In other ways, four years is a long time, as part of your life. If you live to be 80, it's just 5% of your total life. Oh. But if you live to be 58, then it's 10% - a whole tenth - of your adult life. The numbers occasionally get a little scary, especially when you're on the so-called wrong side of significant birthdays such as your 40th, and when you've become aware of many more deaths and divorces in your wider circle than births and marriages, over that four years.

And as a side point, the worlds population has as good as doubled - from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people - in the 44 years and a month since my birth. That freaks me out a bit every time I think about it, though it doesn't bother anyone I mention it to. I'm not that long into middle age and the number of people alive on this rock has ... doubled?! Still can't quite believe that.


But, really, enough of this verging on the maudlin and being borderline OCD with numbers. Another bad habit I'm persistently trying to stamp on; spending time calculating time passing and life falling away. So meta; and yet so utterly pointless. Whether you do nothing, or are hyper-productive, or somewhere in-between as most people are, these things, life events, go on around you.

One of the things attempted over the four years between that lunch in Demuths with Andy and now is try and figure out ... stuff. The cliched stuff e.g. The Meaning of Life, what's the purpose of it all, what is meant by 'home', yadda yadda yadda, and also more tangible stuff, such as what am I good at and what do I want to do and what do I want to achieve. Why this 'quest' for some kind of enlightenment? Mid-life crisis? Experiences of mortality (which for many overlaps with the mid-life crisis)? Seeing various things die or end (people, relationships, ambitions, works) and pausing to take stock? Reflecting on four decades of experiences?

I don't know. Something to do, maybe.


Most of the advice, guidance, summaries of books on living, philosophies (Camus was pretty good, btw), other peoples writing, my own (bad) writing, whatever, I've come across over those four years either fit into those four things, or is of lesser importance:

1. Be realistic, no more or less, in what you can do yourself.
2. Quietly achieve useful things; feed your contentment, not your ego.
3. Be nice to the good people; avoid the rest.
4. Find The One; treat her or him well.

Personally, together these four things feel right. Oh, but there's one other thing am adding to that list, even though most people didn't suggest it (but Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway both did):

5. Get a cat.

That looks like a plan.

Anyway. Onwards to the next four years. And hopefully spending it putting those four (hopefully five) points into more sustained practice.

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