If I were Immortal

"Don't you want to play a little chess first?"
“Don’t you want to play a little Chess first?”

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.

2. Swing and a Miss

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.

3. Not Today

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.

42 thoughts on “If I were Immortal”

  1. Drew, I love this post. You couldn’t have more accurately summed up my feelings. I have a book you might enjoy (ironically it is a vampire book, but a damn good one) that deals with some of these same questions….

  2. I think that’s why concept of Tolkien’s elves is so alluring. Alas, we cannot have it all. The trick is to decide what gives us most joy and satisfaction and concentrate on that. Just why is that so much harder to do than it should be?

    1. Part of it is because eventually we have to go at it alone. I had a peer group immersed in the art throughout high school and my early twenties. It was our lives, not a hobby. Now, we’re spread out and it feels like I’ve aged out. He have to keep going without peer recognition.

  3. There is this constant pressure to get things done, to be certain places. That’s a pressure which has been bothering me as of late. I’ve looked back at my life so far and been displeased with where I’m at for my age. Yet, I’ve moved to a new country, I’m building the foundations for my dreams. That is far more important than being in a management job. I’m happy and I’m making real progress, that, is what matters.

    1. I’m happy for you too. I’m of the belief that age isn’t prerequisite for writing, but it is a benefit. Life experience is a great tool box to draw from.

      Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Great post. Quite enjoyed. I have asked myself what I would do if I were immortal. If I became immortal today, think I would just cry. Life would be too dull. No excitement. No hope. There would be an eternity to do anything, anything at all . . . even scratching, or blinking. One day I was thinking, if God wanted to punish a person, he would make him or her immortal. Imagine the sorrow of watching all your friends, and everybody else, dying one by one over time, while you live against all odds. I think the sorrow would be too much. I would go mad. We are used to death; we anticipate it. We plan our lives with it lurking somewhere in the background. If it were suddenly removed, time would at once cease to matter, and what would we do then? I don’t know. All these goals, dreams, excellence, speed, whatever, who would give a shit? You’d go to Law school and write the best legal thriller. You’d have forever to write and publish it. Then you’d ask me to read it and I’d say “Okay, I’ll read it” but you’d not ask me ‘when’ I’d do that because, for all you cared, I might read it after a thousand years or forever and you wouldn’t mind. I think time is good for us. It gives us enthusiasm and vigour.

    1. I think the immortality debate is best summed up by a dialogue exchange from The Exorcist 3, of all movies.

      Father Dyer: You wouldn’t want to live forever.
      Kinderman: Yes, I would.
      Father Dyer: No, you wouldn’t. You’d get bored.
      Kinderman: I have hobbies.

  5. Shouldn’t pedals be petals?

    Otherwise a great post.

    If I gained immortality I’d probably spend all my eternal time watching TV, playing video games, and whatever new time-wasters they invent.

    1. Fixed the pedal petals thing, good catch.

      I’d probably go back and forth creating and dabbling. You have no idea how many games I’ve purchased on Steam that I’ve never gotten around to even installing on my computer.

  6. I love this post Drew but also love Peter Nena’s response. Has really got me thinking and debating in my own head, especially as my villain in my WIP finds a way to make himself immortal. But this has made me start to question why? At the moment it’s because he wants to have ultimate power over everyone, something others don’t have, but perhaps that’s not enough…hmmm definitely foo for thought. Personally I’d just like to live the normal amount of time without the physical/mental effects of ageing! I really do want it all!
    Great post once again 🙂

    1. Glad you liked it.

      Immortality and time travel are two themes my imagination can’t stop dwelling on, which is funny because I haven’t used either in my fiction.

      A villain seeking immortality might very well have the next few centuries plotted out in their head. Time to accrue wealth, to learn skills, to raise an army and to install an evil regime. What’s the villain’s draw to immortality and power?

      1. Power because his ancestors lost it to another tribe and he believes he should regain ultimate power but it’s the immortality part I want to delve into deeper. It’s not totally necessary to plot but I just want to explore it. I think he’s quite narcissistic and perhaps sees being immortal as the ultimate power in that he’d never lose it again. However it’s something I need to plot out more in his character. Like I say, your post makes me think. You have a habit of doing that! All good 🙂

  7. “I’d paint across canvases and digital touch screens, in watercolors and 3-D vectors. I’d draw from memory and from dreams.”

    You make a good point (you always do) about a topic we can all relate to, but the poetry in your prose is what I look forward to.

    1. Thank you so much. I’m always happy when you notice.

      That line you quoted was actually something I spoke into my phone while I was out walking the dog. Thought it sounded cool

  8. I’ve heard people tell girls they need to be married by the time they are 30…wha whaaat? That means I should be married by August. Fuck. I’m turning 30. Nooooo! Lol 🙂

    I didn’t know where this was going when I started reading it and was surprised when you asked, what would you do if you were immortal. Instead of having another hour of deep thoughts about why I exist, I contemplated life as an immortal, then realized you are right. I shouldn’t put my passion and desires aside because I feel I don’t have time. Like you, I’d also go back to school and travel! 🙂

    “…don’t deny yourself life experiences based on artificial expiration dates.” I loved the message of this article. Being from a small town, most of my friends are married with children and I get tired of hearing people ask me when I’m getting married.

    Well done! Loved it 🙂

    1. Thanks so much.

      I’ve been 29 for 3 years now… and my Facebook is clogged with baby pictures. Hell, I’ve read at weddings for people who are already divorced.

      I’d like to think that some of us bloom late for a good reason, that we’ll come out more refined if we’re not yet bogged down with obligations.

      I’ve been thinking about this ever since I hit the big 3-0. Society has a lot of cynicism toward people who aren’t entirely established, but of the people I know who have jobs, houses, and families, they’re still struggling to find purpose.

      Thanks for indulging my thought experiment. I loved your most recent video. The one about the dream that left you with a profound sense of peace. I’m working on something right now. When I get a break, I’ll give you a proper comment.

      1. 29 for three years, lol…yes, I feel that day is upon me when I start lying about my age 🙂

        I agree with you. And, in regards to marriage, late bloomers are definitely more mature, established and have pretty much become the person they will be for the rest of their life, so I think there is more luck in finding someone you will be compatible and happy with.

        (Sorry…I seem to always be late in responding to comments. I don’t get emails about the responses. I’m assuming I can adjust that in the settings, I’ll have to figure that out, lol 🙂

  9. Excellent post. I love that much of what you would do involves research for writing. And the pictures are perfectly funny and apt.

  10. Well said. I love that so much of what you would do involves research for writing. And the pictures are perfectly hilariois and apt. Thanks for the post.

  11. “There’s an art shaped hole in your life, fill it.” I just had a conversation in which I said this to someone who needed to hear it. I love this post and your eloquence.

  12. Brilliant! Just brilliant! I have pulled several quotes from this piece to keep me motivated. Thanks for the reminder that it’s never too late to redirect our life and pursue our passions.

  13. Nicely put, all of it – I think the same things while 40 looms at the end of the street. As for Denis Leary’s thoughts, never take advice from a man who built his career on ripping off somebody else’s act (i.e. Bill Hicks).

    1. I’m well aware of the Bill Hicks connection. That Leary quote always stuck with me. I wrote it in as a way of defusing it.

      I’m really glad you liked the piece.

  14. Thanks for inspiring to do & want more 🙂 Wonderful post beautifully written… with a question that can change lives & does ^_^ great job! Now I should make a list of all the things I would do if I were immortal 😉

  15. Hey Drew, thanks – I get a sense of anxiety every time I think about the things the clock is ticking down on for me, so this post was a nice deep breath and a “stop and think a minute.” I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time on paying the bills, but then again, at the moment I have as much time as I want/need to focus on the things I love doing (mostly writing).

    And BTW, I’m with you – if I had unlimited time, I’d go to law school, med school, etc. and learn the ins and outs of those systems just to make my writing more realistic. And I don’t even write legal/medical fiction!

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