There are a bunch of contradictory arguments about the value of living in the ‘now’, being grounded, being present for what one is experiencing, as opposed to dwelling in the past or fantasising about the future. Presence is valuable, but so too is recognising one’s past mistakes and learning from them, and having hope and ambition to move forward into a better future.
I have a dreadful memory, which I usually enhance by dwelling on past mistakes and slights, exaggerating them, pulling out each minute facet of a moment like a Cubist, searching relentlessly for clues to why I am the way I am, why other people act in certain ways, why things went down the way they did. I am notoriously (occasionally gloriously) past-oriented. I ignore the future as a place of unknown terror, and, from a certain viewpoint, I’d say I waste the present.
I don’t have regrets but there are things I miss. This week, I miss being an undergrad. I miss classes, and courses and subjects–having a structured system of learning to rely on. The PhD is wonderful (though it feels almost laugable to even type that, I do genuinely believe it, deep down), but I miss being told what to do, what to learn, how to learn. Being forced into it. Being pushed.
I miss philosophy classes. The chapter I’m starting to draft is about digital technology and virtual data, the ontology and phenomenology of being virtual, and I miss the few philosophy classes I did. My degree was split between Creative Arts and Gender Studies, and Gender Studies was, itself, run as an interdisciplinary major between English, Philosophy, Politics, History and Sociology. I had the most fun in English classes, but I miss the rigour and the self-questioning of philosophy classes. With the exception of the one history subject I took to fulfil my degree which culminated in my only tertiary-level exam, philosophy subjects were the hardest I’ve worked for my degrees. I’m a surface-level philosopher, really, but I enjoyed the challenge of it. Unlike English, which really developed as a fairly self-contained discipline until it started to blur with media studies, philosophical investigation comes from all sorts of places: the classics, law, history, medicine, psychology. English Studies, the kind of English we get taught how to practice in high school, means close analysis, narrowing your argument down to a point. Philosophy broadens. It takes you out of yourself and lets you see why you think the way you do.
But, despite feeling passionate about it now, I also miss philosophy classes because I miss the whole package of being an undergrad and the whole package of being young. (As though 27 isn’t young. As though ‘being old’ is a burden. As if I have any right to complain about any part of my life, least of all my age, given that once I become a Doctor of Philosophy I’ll be ‘young’ again, contextually, and you’re only as old as the person you feel.) It’s about feeling boundless, and full of potential, and paradoxically not giving a fuck about occasionally being lazy or wasting something because you have all the time in the world. That’s contemporary privileged western undergrad life and I miss the hell out of it and sometimes I just want that back.
I miss it (and want it back) every time I hear that Taylor Swift song.
I miss it (and want it back) every time I drink beer, wear short shorts, stay up late. And I miss it when I get my electricity bill, when I’m so depressed I can’t leave the house, when I eat veges because I desire them, when I’m alone in my office. When I’m ‘being a grown-up’, whatever that means.
I gloss over the tight budgets and shitty regretful drunken parties and the angst and that knowledge, four hours before an essay deadline, that you’re better than this you’re smarter than this and you won’t leave it this late ever again (until next time). Because those aren’t the parts I want back. Those aren’t the times of boundless potentiality. Those aren’t the times (and this is the part, as a writer, that hits the hardest) when the words and the feelings and the joy flowed freely. Doing this PhD under my own steam sometimes feels shufflingly, archaicly, Edwardianly slow in comparison.
But. That truly is the past and it’s nothing but the foundation of the present. It will always be there, in traces. But it is gone. What’s tangible, touchable, real right now is… well, the ‘now’.
My motto at the moment is ‘backspace is for cowards‘. At this stage of my life, I can’t afford the luxury of going backwards, deleting things, doubting my ideas, worrying about mistakes. ‘Backspace is for cowards‘ is shorthand for all of that, for maintaining forward momentum, for future-orienting.