02 April 2023

To try again

It began snowing again last month, suddenly out of the blue. The snow in Britain is strange. Sometimes it starts and you think to yourself, well this will go away quickly. And then after some time, it just keeps falling. And at some point, you realise to yourself that, it's going to stick, and winter has come again. With all of my running, the thing that I was thinking about the most was whether I would be able to keep going. The morning I woke up to do my sprints, the roads were covered with ice and snow but I still put on my shoes and did my best to get out and run as fast as I could. I didn't run very fast, but that didn't matter. The whole point of this plan is to just be consistent. To trust the process. The point of the process, of marathon training, is to get to the start line on the day of the race and think to yourself that there was nothing else you could have done to get into a better place than you are. What will happen with your body, what you will experience out there, who knows. You know it will be hard, you know you will suffer, but you'll have some peace thinking to yourself there was nothing more you could have done. 

For people like me, however, there will be a list of things that weren't done properly in preparing for this race, recriminations you can call them. There was the morning I didn't manage to run 8 miles at marathon pace, only four. There were the slow 5ks where I couldn't manage to get a new PB when I thought I should. There was that Saturday night when I ate way too much, when I couldn't stop slathering plant butter on white bread and eating piece after piece slice after slice. Even saying that, writing it down it seems odd. Of course, the problem is not the thing itself, but my intent in trying to do the thing, and the failure to perfectly do what I intended to do.

Most of my teaching these days revolves around trying to get my students to understand the importance of context and intent in our experience of the social world. I get into these long riffs about whatever's on my mind, when I'm trying to explain something like Conversation Analysis. I'll say something like: Eating white bread with plant butter is not a real problem, but it becomes a problem for me. It's only a problem for me because I think it's a problem — I make it a problem, I believe it to be a problem. If I could somehow not believe that it was a problem, it wouldn't be a problem, I would likely stop doing it, I would be able to contextualise my feelings, the experience of my body being hungry, and not be ashamed of it. Because that's really the problem isn't it? That I'm ashamed. Shame is entirely arbitrary, it's learned, someone tells you what to be ashamed of and you're ashamed. But if no one tells you to be ashamed, you won't be ashamed. When I've said all of that, my students are staring at me, and they've stopped taking notes: they've wondered if this is still a part of the lecture, and how it relates to the slide I have on the board that says 'Second Person Completions II' and I have to find some way to bring it all back around. 

On Wednesday, I went to see Death Cab for Cutie in London, at Royal Albert Hall with my friend Billy. I'd seen Death Cab the autumn I went to Japan, after I'd graduated and right before I was going to leave, as a part of a road trip to my college and then out to Iowa City, where we saw them in a bar, this after Transatlanticism came out and before they were really famous. I don't remember anything about the show except who I was with and how I felt like my life had been cut short when I graduated college a year early and all my friends were still there, and I had not managed to move on so much as to just decide to leave the country for Japan, because what else was I going to do. I felt like I was getting ready to die, like I knew somewhere that I wouldn't be coming back, or if I came back, it wouldn't be to any of this. None of my friends had realised it yet, because they were in their fourth year, their senior year, but I knew what was coming, that fundamental challenge to your personality, to that adult you thought you had become, which occurred when you were no longer in college and you had to start again in a world of people who had everything figured out and you were a child all over again, sleeping in your parents' house.

Now, I am somehow at the end of the arc where that all started, because I managed, at least in the sense that I understood it when I was twenty-one and wondering about what the hell I was going to do with myself, to figure it all out. I left and succeeded and became the thing I dreamt of being at that time. I had some realisation of this when we climbed up to the top of Royal Albert Hall, to the Gallery Standing section, waiting for Death Cab to come on, and I felt some parasocial, hey look at us feeling about this band I had grown up with. They came on and started playing, and looking down on a show and everyone at it, it felt like we had died and all these young people, these kids, were watching a band that I had watched when I was a kid. The sound was muddy at first, and I was annoyed with myself on buying these cheap tickets, until I gave up on feeling annoyed and just watched the whole thing, Ben Gibbard saying 'We're Death Cab for Cutie from Seattle' and remembering when that was a strange thing to hear at a show where there were only 80 or 90 people, when it was a strange thing to tell people in high school when they asked what band you liked. Now, all these people on the other side of the world, singing all along, and me, watching from far away.

My daughter said she had been praying for my happiness, and I felt guilty immediately: I'm sorry, don't do that, I said, you don't need to do that. My happiness is my responsibility. I have no reason for being unhappy that you need to worry about. I get home early in the morning, hire a bike and cycle back home in the dark, no one on the streets but me. This is happiness, this is what you want when you're forty. There's still time now, and you can compare yourself to some other version of yourself, but what good does that do. How many hours can that unique worry add to your life. And here, now, it is three in the morning, and you are completely alone, completely free. There's still time, of course.