Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All We Have is the Present

I distinctly remember something my Year 7 History teacher told my class on the first day of high school. Being the first lesson of the year and of our secondary schooling, Mr Osta wasn’t going to go all Alexander the Great and Treaty of Versailles on his class of lackadaisical pupils. He had to start off simple, and he couldn’t stoop any simpler than the question, “What is history?” To get the discussion rolling, he dropped a whiteboard marker on the floor and proclaimed, “That’s history!” I sat in my chair thinking, “Sure, that marker hit the floor five seconds ago, but that does not constitute history.” Well, that was eight years ago, and I see the world through a different lens now.
You see, Mr Naz Osta was correct on that day back in 2005. If it happened one second ago, it’s history. Sure, dropping a pen may lack the gravitas of a memory you have of fighting for your country in the Second World War, but it shares one thing in common with that situation: it happened.  We should all make a conscious effort to revel in things that are happening, because they are reduced to memories once they have happened. I’m not saying you should savour every single second of your time on Earth (root canals, long queues at the bank = FUN!), but you should be attuned to recognising the moments that are worthy of a place in your photo album and be able to wrap your mind around them with the force of a boa constrictor strangling a field mouse. How often have you come home from a party feeling desolate down to your soul? Heck, I’m an introvert, but even I feel a bit empty arriving home from a place that was loud and colourful. It’s that absence of noise and laughter that kills you the most, right? Sure, a lot of parties are just plain terrible (any party hosted by me), but the really good ones make you wish there were at least 30 hours in the day. But hey, suck on this: there are only 24 hours in the day. That’s why you should:
a) Take some pictures at the party.
b) Realise while you’re at the party that a party only goes for a few hours and once it’s over you have to go to sleep and wake up the next morning to go to your shitty job or work on an essay that was only assigned to see if you’ve been doing the weekly readings. Then, think “Fuck! I am having fun tonight and this fun is only temporary.” You shall then proceed to savour the party so hard your head begins to ache. In other words, take mental pictures.
I’ve reached the part of this post where I have to issue a trigger warning. The remainder of this post may induce bouts of intense nostalgia, or what the Portuguese call saudade - a longing for a person or thing that will never return. Do me a favour and turn to the person nearest to you and give them a hug. OK…maybe avoid that sweaty guy who reeks of cigarettes on the train, but if it’s someone you know, do it. (This is a great opportunity to make a move on that guy or girl you like; tell ‘em a blog asked you to do it.) Home alone? Go hug your dog, cat, iguana, rock, or other pet. I’m asking you to do this because these people and animals in your life won’t be around forever. But look, they’re around now, so appreciate them. A few months ago, I was trawling through folders on my computer and I dug up some photographs that were taken around the same time Mr Osta defined history for me. I saw photos of myself holding my old dog, Boyo, who passed away in 2011. I saw photos of my mum and my uncle, and both were sporting fewer wrinkles than they have today. Most of us would know that feeling of finding photos of deceased grandparents and quickly putting them away before you reduce yourself to a blubbering mess. When someone takes your photograph, it never occurs to you that it will one day be something you look at that triggers a memory. All you think is, “Is my skin too oily?”“Do I have something in my teeth?”, “Will this be going on Facebook?“  There’s a lovely sentiment in The Perks of Being a Wallflower where protagonist Charlie muses, “…there was a time when these weren’t memories. That someone actually took that photograph, and the people in the photograph had just eaten lunch or something.” When someone takes a photograph, they are preserving a moment they want to remember. Before the invention of the camera, people painted to depict things as they were, so there has always been this affirmation that memory is never enough. It’s why some people get tattoos, and why people on YouTube upload clips of concerts they recorded on their phone. We like to romanticise photographs for the nostalgic joy they provide, but they can also remind us of how things aren’t the way they once were. So, next time you get your photo taken, be prepared to look at it ten years down the track, and to feel terribly old and melancholic when you do so.
How do you know that you weren’t born when you woke up this morning? What if you had been unconscious since time immemorial and only saw the world for the first time today? Well, of course you weren’t born this morning. You know when you were born, and yet it feels strange to consider that you have been a sentient being for all of these years. I know I’m sounding vague right now, so let me try something with you. February 17, 2003. Can you tell me what you were doing on that date? No, I don’t want to hear “I went to school” or “I was on a holiday in Honolulu.” I want specifics, dammit. What did you have for breakfast that morning? What TV shows did you watch that day? What were you doing at 7:34 pm? Unless you had a birthday on that date, or it was your wedding anniversary, you won’t be able to give me a recount of that day. Heck, even if it was a special day for you, you won’t be able to remember everything. According to, at the time of writing, I am 7,397 days old. I have lived through every single one of those days, and yet the only one that really matters is the day I am currently living: April 17, 2013. Every day that has gone before is irretrievable. The things I did on those days cannot be undone. As for the days ahead of me, they’re not even guaranteed because I could get hit by a bus this afternoon. While our past is largely a blur, we can still prove that we have one. I’m a huge sucker for things that carry sentimental value, and so I have kept a lot of books from my primary school days. It’s weird to open up a book and see things I wrote when I was a kid. I see messy letters side by side that form some semblance of a word, and the words come together to form a sentence.

Pictured above is a pathetic excuse for a drawing of a female human being.  I drew this picture on November 8, 1999. I was a six-year-old kid in Year 1. I know this because the date is written at the top of the page with my name next to it. I don’t remember drawing this picture, but I KNOW I drew it. I sat on a chair in my classroom with a lead pencil and a set of crayons at my disposal and I produced this shitty representation of a human being (check out that dislocated leg!). This was drawn 14 years ago. This picture proves that I existed 14 years ago. Because we go to sleep at the end of each day, an illusion is created that each day is the beginning of a new life. We live in 24-hour segments. Once today is over, it becomes yesterday, and yesterday will soon become last week, which metamorphoses into last month. Twelve months accumulate to become a year, and before you know it, the years pile up until you’re left with a hazy memory that can only be triggered by something you find a decade later in a scrapbook. Whatever you are doing today will not be remembered unless it is fucking significant. April 17, 2013 is just another day that you live because the only other alternative is death and that sucks. You will not remember April 17, 2013 on June 26, 2032. If you like, you can write a note saying “I wrote this on April 17, 2013″, stick it in an envelope labelled June 26, 2032, and open it on that date. The memories of this day will have been eradicated by the passage of time, but you’ll have that interface between past and present; a relic that says, “I was alive 19 years ago. I was alive and I had the sentience to write this note for myself.”
I’m not sure if this post has taught you anything, but I’ve been meaning to write it for some time. This is the product of many nights spent lost in melancholy, thinking about the unfairness of life and why everything has to end. As I come to a close, I realise this blog post will one day be forgotten. I will also be forgotten, as will any children, grandchildren, and so on that I have.  But hey, fuck it. If I wanted to give you a sad ending, I’d tell you to watch Requiem for a Dream. I write because it calms me and it makes others happy (from what I’ve been told), and if you can read my words and forget for a moment that your life has an expiry date, then I have done my job.
P.S. If the remote control from the movie Click is ever invented, please let me know.

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