Thoughts follow thoughts, and patterns put a spin on them so they tend to go off in familiar directions.
Right now, where I’m at, I’m finding it incredibly easy to think about what could have been.
It starts quite practically: asking my imagination machine to show me what would have happened if, say, the US closed schools across the nation on 14th March. Imagine the much better state we’d be in now?
This gets transferred on to more supposition: what’d happen if they kept at finding better vaccines for Sars or Mers, that’d be basically ready to go jab everyone?
Then, for me, it goes to more biographical editing, as if life itself could be rewritten for clarity, emotional connection, or believably.
What would have happened if I’d studied a bit harder and got a first at uni? What if I’d studied something I _now_ know I should have studied? Would I finally be less shamed by my professional peers?
What would have happened if I hadn’t gone on those weird (now, kind of cultish in retrospect) summer camps, which lead to a gap-year that turned me into a British subject of Her Majesty (through a series of implausible events).
Now, a large part of my psyche lives for this kind of thing. It’s creative. It’s like it’s got an infinite supply of endlessly malleable source material from which to spin out stories. And, my imagination needs this – it’s my demon, my engine, my fuel. It’s the reason I can never answer the question: “Are you present?”
Mindfulness has been an interesting exercise, and it absolutely makes me feel better. But the “just being here now” isn’t me. It should probably be more me than it is now, but it’s not my default setting.
I’m back at the Ponderosa Lodge Ranch in Colorado’s Sangre de Christo mountains. It’s 1999 and I’m a 14-year-old, teaching teaching puppets to 19-year-olds. I’m wondering what it’d have been like if I’d just stayed there – become a decorative hermit of the culty pentacostals who I very much loved – every single one of them – but thought they were quite bloody mad. What if I were a bit better at social skills, and – to be absolutely frank – a lot better at not being such a weird kid?
And that string of thoughts, like bad jumpcuts in cheap video is the problem.
It’s vanity, naturally. All this thinking (and typing) about what could have been, is a kind of comfortable melancholy. It’s a cocktail of numbing agents, creativity, and analysis and heartache. But sometimes, it’s adulterated with any readibly available, fatal poisons: regret, judgement, entitlement, or flagellation.
Funny though how lockdown, big fear, and more uncertainty than I’ve ever faced push those thought-trains right through my soul – barely under my control.
But, you now what?
I grew up in a trailer park in the Colorado desert, and i told the Queen of England I’d faithfully serve her as her subject. I’ve had beers with the inventors of the internet, and shared supper with half of the Communards. I’ve had fat-tailed sheep kebab in the Tien Shan mountains and supped fermented mares’ milk amongst ancient mountains. I’ve prayed and lit candles in vast cathedrals of medieval stone and let a bishop smack my face with a branch of rosemary (don’t ask) in one of the oldest churches in England.
Quarantine introspection. It’ll kill you slowly, if you let it.
But it might remind you of what kind of interesting, creative, loving, dependable, incomparable, kind, and funny person you are. Just don’t drink too deeply of the draught, and don’t let your demon spike it with toxic soul-gifts of regret, dispair, judgement, or self-harm.
You know why? It’s because in a few weeks, we need you strong, imaginative, and just-bored-enough self to make this broken world whole again.
Pax vobiscum; Illegitimi non carborundum.