The Clock’s Ticking
A pundit on the talk show circuit, calling herself the ‘Princeton Mom,’ urges young girls to “Find a husband while they’re still in college.” Shaming the bar scene, she says the pickings get slimmer for women waiting until they find a career.
While she doesn’t feel the same rules apply to men, a study by Indiana University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, shows that children of older fathers have a higher risk of developing mental illness. On top of that, New York University’s Langone Medical Center found that marriage lowers disease, depression, and the death rate in men.
I’m pretty sure these studies were commissioned by my parents.
LinkedIn keeps emailing me reminders to congratulate my friends on their promotions. Facebook’s ‘Like’ algorithm fills my news feed with wedding announcements and infants. Match.com keeps telling me to finish my registration.
Alright internet, I get the hint.
There’s a clock, with hands governed by biology, and markings agreed upon by society. The hands advance, reducing our metabolisms, bringing us grey hairs, and crow’s feet. The markings tell us when we ought to be done with our graduate degrees, when we should have careers, and life partners. I’ve watched the hands cross those marks, while I’ve labored to become an author. A five year plan came and went, while I worked dead end jobs, and typed through the evenings.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says, it takes 10,000 hours of practice, roughly ten years, to be an expert at something. My artistic pursuits have set me on a narrow path.
I hear the clock ticking. The Grimm Reaper’s scythe swings like a pendulum. Every time I look up, it lowers an inch. For some life is a journey, for others a destination, and for too many of us it’s a countdown. Every day is a life event we’re racing toward. We’re late for a very important date.
If only this pressure wasn’t there.
What I’d Do if I were Immortal
Everyone knows what they’d do if they won the lottery, but few could tell you what they’d do if they were immortal. Most folks don’t dabble in the thought unless they’re plotting a vampire novel. It’s counterintuitive; life is short, we’re supposed to make the most of it. That ticking clock is all that gets some folks out of bed, but what if it wasn’t a motivating factor? Indulge me in this thought experiment.
What would you do if you were immortal?
Me, I would go to law school so I could write a proper legal thriller. I’d study abnormal psychology so I could write my mysteries with authority. I’d dual major in philosophy and information technology, so that my science fiction was informed by reality.
My quest for research and reference material would take me around the world. I’d go to the empty Chinese cities, built before the population could afford them. Investigating the dormant halls of the largest mall in the world, I’d map the ruins of a future civilization. Trudging through the overgrowth on these unopened buildings, their architecture would inspire my atmosphere.
I’d join up with ghost hunters, not to chase spirit orbs or follow trails of ectoplasm, but to get inside their heads, to study the living’s obsession with the dead.
If I were immortal I’d master every medium. I’d rotate around recording studios, from the strings, to the sticks, to the keys. Clutching the microphone, I’d bottom out my baritone, and break glass with my falsetto. I’d beatbox, I’d scratch records, I’d learn to play the theremin.
I’d paint across canvases and digital touch screens, in watercolors and 3-D vectors. I’d draw from memory and from dreams. I’d wander the country with a camera, collecting textures, fresh layers for my Photoshop collages.
Laying out my emotions in black box theaters, I’d project myself to arena balconies, going out into the aisles to touch the audience in their seats.
From film to video game development, I’d become an expert in all the things I’m told I’ve aged out of.
This is my mental montage. At the end of yours ask yourself, which of your options seems the most appealing, which ones seem like they’re within the realm of reason?
Start there and run down the list. No one’s telling you to abandon your family or quit your day job, but of the time you have left, some of it can be spent pursuing these passions.
Devote the time you can. Whenever you’re watching TV just because it’s on, you have a moment to work with. Whenever you’re getting lost clicking through a rabbit hole of trending topics, you could be working on a project. Whenever you’re venting only to find it isn’t helping, there just might be another solution.
All that time you’ve wasted dwelling on the past, start spending some of it in the present. There’s an art shaped hole in your life, fill it.
Bloom on Your Terms
Denis Leary has a standup routine where he sets the rule, “If you’re not what you want to be by the time you’re 35, you’re never going to be.”
Tell that to Raymond Chandler, the father of the modern noir, who started writing at 44. Tell that to Charles Bukowski who was 49 when his first collection was published. Tell that to David Seidler, who came to Hollywood at the age of 40, winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech at 77. These examples might be rare, but they happen.
I can’t help but wonder how many great works we’ve lost, because their authors had succumb to ageism, because they let someone else put an expiration date on their dreams.
This clock isn’t atomic. The units for measuring life events aren’t universal, they’re on a sliding scale. The markings on the clock are just a form of peer pressure that lingered past our high school years. Adolescence doesn’t end when it’s convenient. The socially acceptable grace period for self discovery should be extended.
We don’t all bloom at the same time, but some of our petals come out more refined.
You’re not immortal, but don’t let your peers push aside your passions, don’t live for admiration at your high school reunion, and don’t deny yourself life experiences based on artificial expiration dates.