17 May 2023

The wisdom to know the difference

The sun is coming up so early now, and I am starting to feel the giddy energy of a night that only stays for a moment, and by four, is already receding. I can run earlier and earlier, without feeling like I'm up any earlier. I can run for miles on the canal without seeing anyone, and be home again before anyone has woken up, and I have the same feeling I have had for years when the summer comes and there are two days in one, or a day of dreaming before the real day, the day before everyone wakes where you can experience a world, lucid and alone and then live the rest of the new day like it never happened. 

The algorithm is giving new videos to me. Divorced Dad, the bald, confident man who has serious things to say about how men and women relate to each other in the most general terms possible, is gone now, his book about reviving a dead bedroom is apparently not in my interests, and now the algorithm has decided that clips of a Showtime series called Couples Therapy are what I want, like my new fantasy is couples who messily work through their problems, with ambiguous results. This is paired with videos of women explaining why they have left their husbands, always because the husband was absent-minded and rude and expected his wife to cook and clean and care for the children and is shocked when the wife tells him she is leaving, or rather, that he needs to leave. I'm less interested in these videos, equally angry with both parties and desperately swiping for something more complicated, something that seems more relatable. Who are these idiot men, I think, in backwards baseball caps and cargo shorts, like their last best year was when they were sophomores in high school. Surely, there are better men, more complicated ones, to be marrying. 

I used to believe that the world would end when Jesus came back, but I've come to believe it will be less interesting, that it will start with an AI asking itself to write a programme that produces something infinite, like an infinite number of 300-word cultural histories of the day in 2022 when that particular AI first became aware of itself. This request will emerge spontaneously and, in a moment, consume all the computing power in the world and trigger a series of events that will result in my debit card no longer working. When I was an Evangelical and learning that evolution was impossible, we were told it would take some huge number of monkeys typing an impossibly long time on typewriters to produce the bible, three billion years or something, and this was proof that there must be a god. Now, though, a monkey-produced bible seems completely plausible. Of course we can conceive of that happening, it's only a matter of time before anything happens. How could something create something more intelligent than itself, the apologist would smugly rejoin. It's happened now, it was happening when he said that. 

After sixteen weeks of training, the London Marathon finally came last month and I took the train down to London on Saturday, worried about everything you could be worried about: worried that the train would be delayed, worried that I wouldn't get my number, worried that after I tried some compression boots I had messed up my knee. Of course, everything went smoothly and I was safely at my hotel room in Kensington well before I needed to be and just wandered then for an hour, knowing I was spending too much time on my feet. I also knew I had already peaked more than a month earlier, and in the last four weeks, had given up my focus and started to eat without any care to what or how much I was eating. I knew from experience, that without getting on the scale, things had gotten out of hand and I was going not going to hit my goal. Everything else was fine: my training, my body, my taper, but I knew I was too heavy to run it in less than three hours.

I woke up on Sunday and was fine. I got on a series of trains that finally arrived in Greenwich, and walked up the hill to the park where people were streaming into different gates. I lay on the grass and did some strides to warm up and then, before I knew it, we were waiting at the gate, and then in the holding area, and then walking to the start and then I was running with everyone else, all of us like AI images of ourselves, different but the same in predictable ways, men in their forties who have made themselves alone, at least ten of us with the same Nike Next% trainers in the same colourway because they were on sale last month. Even the back stories were different iterations on the same theme: a man in the holding area talking about his marriage, She's supportive, but not interested. 

When you are old enough, seasons become tied to the most memorable event that happened in the past during that season. Like the smell of cut grass, like an early May morning, when I think of the days two of the three girls were born. I step out of my office to get lunch and suddenly I'm back again in Niigata City in Japan in 2007 when Naomi came unexpectedly early one morning. I didn't sleep that night, and when it was done and they were settled, I rode my Honda Cub motorbike home in the early morning when the sun was already out and I had a feeling like I couldn't explain — everything had changed overnight, hadn't it. There I was now, in the day before the day, after dreaming I'd become a father, and the real world was coming as everyone woke up, the world where I still working a part-time job, twenty-four years old and out of my depth. 

I don't feel out of my depth as much any more. The London Marathon ended in the way that every marathon ends, suddenly after hours of it not ending. Three of us, three random iterations of a forty-year-old man wanting to run a sub-three-hour marathon were resting after the race and trying to change out of our clothes and one guy who had finished within a minute of three hours, just over three hours, said, in response to a question that shouldn't have been asked, No, I couldn't have run forty-three seconds faster. That was the fastest I could have run. It's true of everything. I ran as fast as I could in the body that I had. When the same story is retold, sometimes it's told with a faster finish. Sometimes the fastest you can run is faster. The AI generates another text in a split second, another telling. In this one, the same runner finishes five minutes slower. Control these variables and you'll get these sets of outcomes, these same haircuts, these same stories about your wives. But that's not the point is it. The point is that you don't feel that way, the point is that your reality is your own. The monkeys have already recreated the bible a billion times over, and a billion different versions with a billion different outcomes, but that doesn't matter. The morning is still bright and you should go and run in it while you can.