Am I going to regret this?
When you’re lying on your death bed, your regrets aren’t going to be the things you’ve done, but the things you haven’t – supposedly. Because you get one life and you’ve got to live it, not just survive it. You’ve got to treat each day like it’s your last. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because all you have is now.
The adages are too numerous to count, but they’re all bullying us with the same anxious message: Do things. See things. Go places. Start today. Don’t delay. Don’t stagnate. Don’t waste your precious time. Live live live.
Like, no shit, but could you stop reminding me? It’s getting a little aggressive. It’s making me tetchy.
Because I live at home. I don’t leave very often. I don’t meet many people or make new friends. I’m not doing a lot of things I want to be doing, in favour of one that I do. It’s a ‘lifestyle’ – if you can call it that – that closes doors all by itself. The harder I focus on writing, the more other opportunities fall away.
Which opportunities, you ask? Well, I don’t know exactly, but conventional wisdom tells me they’re out there, barely within reach, lurking, taunting me. The fact is there’s nothing in particular I’m lusting after. I’m just restless, and I blame being pressured to remember, at every waking moment, that I’m dying. Considering it’s the only thing any of us can be sure of, I’d really like if we could call this one a given and stop talking about it.
It’s not that I’m in denial; quite the opposite. Active choices led me to where I am now, and they’re choices I would make again. Choices centred on spending my time how I want to, and making my numbered days count. But between the me who’s living her best life and the me of right now – who probably won’t change out of her pyjamas today – is a lot of filler I wouldn’t exactly call optimal living. If I were really living this day like it was my last, I wouldn’t be trying to force out another five hundred words of my novel. Of the things I could feasibly make happen, I’d probably be eating two dozen custard doughnuts and skipping around the countryside with my dog. Maybe naked. Definitely with a bottle of Moet Chandon in either hand.
I love to write. I love it for its own sake. But to sit in front of your laptop at the dining room table all day, to work from home, and to have whittled away a year this way for the sake of questionable progress, feels an awful lot like stagnation, and sometimes I start questioning it all. Should I be doing something else with my twenties? Will I ultimately be happier not going after what I want, with all it’s compromises and downsides, at least until some later stage?
Because I bet as you get older, people stop telling you so insistently that life is short; after all, reminding your nan that YOLO is just plain cruel. But how many of us are being propelled through our twenties by a nagging sense that there’s life to be lived, seizing to be done, days to be spent with pain-staking, exhausting economy? Perhaps I would be happier trying to satiate that anxiety in conventional ways – travelling, life-building, exercising my still-new adult independence – rather than slowly moulding into the shape of this chair. Perhaps writing can wait until enough days have passed that people feel uncomfortable telling me to seize them.
I could pack it all in, and up and leave for Peru. But I see myself, looking across the mountains from Machu Picchu, anxious because I can’t help thinking I could be doing better; could be living harder; could be even more acutely aware of my own mortality. Before I know it, my life will have passed me by in a flurry of fear that my life is passing me by.
I need to finish my novel before I visit Machu Picchu. I need to finish being here, now, and I’d like to do so with some sense of contentment; with at least moderate confidence that I’m not going to regret it. Because if we have to talk about how to live before we die, then the most important thing is to foster a happiness that follows us from our childhood bedroom to the depths of South America, or from our childhood bedroom to the dining room downstairs, if that’s where we choose to be.