I look at myself. Not in the mirror, not as a person with a yen for profundity and meaning, but in a picture. I find the picture among my belongings as I clear out my flat because it’s being renovated: for the first time in decades I go through every object I own and therefore am owned by and decide whether to keep it, or whether to part. Keep it or part. Keep? Or part: divest, my mind mostly suggests, and my heart, in most cases, though not quite all, affirms, yes divest!
I am unambitious but consistent in the pursuit of my task, as I progress through each item one by one. I look at every photograph, and every photograph looks at me. I don’t notice me at first, not in an ‘oh, here I am, look at me!’ kind of way. I just know I’m there. In the picture. As anyone ever photographed by necessity is. In this particular stack, I am part of a collection of early black and white ten by eights that I must have had done when I first decided to be an actor. This dates them in the mid to late nineteen-eighties and me at about twenty-two, twenty-three. I don’t notice me, not this time round. I’m simply there.
The second time round I notice myself. I have been away for seven weeks, nearly eight, and I’ve come back into my flat, which is all new and fresh and still so familiar and more home now than ever, and as I unpack the boxes I once again go through almost every thing I own and am therefore owned by, only this time I do so not one by one but in batches, just to make sure. And this time round I jump out at myself: I am beautiful. I wish I’d known that. I wish I’d known then that I was beautiful, but I didn’t. I still don’t. But I was. And I am. Only I can’t feel it now, I can’t even see it. I couldn’t then. But I can now see it then. I can see now that then I am beautiful. I have a gentle face and searching eyes, and an almost translucent skin; I have my life in front of me; not my childhood, not my youth, but my whole adult existence.
I am overcome with compassion. How brave I was, and needed to be. How unencumbered I was. How I looked forward, unafraid. How strong. How fragile. How soft, how resilient; how steadfast. How honest. How vulnerable. How resolute not to hurt, not to fail, or if to hurt then not to cry, not to grumble, and not to succumb; yet to prevail…
I sense the time has come. I trust it now, much more, the sense. All the things I know and all the things I don’t know are the same: they all abide by and reside in me. No words of wisdom, no advice. Let me make my own mistakes. Let sorrow, loss, and lingering despair crush me to tears. I won’t protect me from myself: that would be crueller still.
Across from me, at the Limonlu Bahçe, Istanbul: George. I lean forward a little, my chair creaks, he looks up at me, curious, askance. Unimpressed. Unruffled. Unspoilt. Unused. Undamaged. Unfathomable, even to me. I know how you feel, I’ve been there, believe me, I’ve been you, but no, I don’t know you at all. I know you no more than I know any boy your age. Man! You never liked being a boy much, a youth, maybe, yes; do you like being a man? I hear myself think the question, and in a flicker of recognition—probably imagined, only by me—he says: ‘Do you relish being a man?’ (‘Relish.’ That’s better. ‘Like’ is so lightweight, it’s neither here nor there. He could have said ‘enjoy’ but that, too, has long since been eroded, diminished to some middling marketed meaninglessness.)
‘I do.’ I say: ‘I will. If I haven’t until now, then henceforth I shall.’
‘Henceforth?’ He gives me that smile, that bemused, too knowing, wry play on his lips, a light in his eye.
I don’t want to burden myself with the responsibility of having interfered with my own life. Not here, not now. I used to be troubled. Then charming. Then enigmatic. I’m still working on wise.
‘Be generous, be kind.’ (I thought I was not going to give me advice. Is it that hard to refrain?) ‘Forgive. Live and let live, and trust the universe is on your side.’ He looks at me, unsmiling, unconcerned, frank. He knows all this already, everyone does. ‘Felicity, fortune, and favour all balance out, over time. Take your time. Let not there ever be any hurry. Go you about with a heart that beats warm and a mind that keeps open and a soul that is free, and your path will lead you where you need to be.’ (That’s done it: I’ve lost him.) His eyes linger long and soft, not hard; then, inscrutable now, he nods. ‘Just remember:’ (Stop it! Stop it now! No counsel, no words, no well-intentioned guidance from yonder!) ‘If you want a squirt of milk in your pail, you have to squeeze the odd teat now and then.’
I get up; the temptation to ruffle his hair proves almost too much, but I know I used to hate this, and so I desist.
‘Fare well.’ I say, in two words. He looks up at me and, unsmiling still, but gamely returns: ‘Fare thee well.’
And then I remember and I turn around to him before I leave and I stand at the bottom of the steps that lead up through the house, from the garden, onto the street, and the garden is busy again now, and buzzing, and I see myself sitting there, alone but not lonely, quiet, composed, a little aloof, just the way I was in that photograph, just the way I now feel, and I spread my arms to this Garden of Eden afore me and I demand, at the top of my voice, of it all: ‘BE MAGNIFICENT!’
And, having said what I needed to say now, I leave myself to my self: my adventure, my journey, my love.
And here I was and I will be, but mostly now, here I am.
(The good thing about fiction? I unimagine it, and it’s gone…)
What, then, if it is true.
What, then, if it is true that we live in this world.
What then, if it is true that we live in this world and this world is the best of all possible worlds.
What then, if it is true that we live in this world and this world is the best of all possible worlds but not the only possible world merely the best of all possible worlds right now made by us for us because every possible world is the best of all possible worlds at that moment in that place in that configuration; there are
an infinite number of infinities so there must be an infinite number of dimensions and an infinite number of potentialities.
What then if we were all of them at any given time.
What then if we were to learn to experience life like that.
What then if we were to learn to experience life like that and sense that we are everything we can imagine to be and everything we can’t imagine to be and that therefore everything is exactly as it should be if we will it so.
What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential.
What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential.
What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential but know that that’s what we were doing and know that doing this was unnecessary:
What then if we were to know that we are able to realise our potential —
What then if we were to know that we are able to realise our potential, at least part of our potential —
What then if we were to realise at least more of the potentiality than hitherto we had known about —
What if we were to know this and act upon it; what if we were to know this and act upon it, then what would we do? What if we were to know this and act upon it: then what would we do?
What, then, if we were to know that we can realise our potential, and act upon it.
What would we do.
(I ache for my mind to expand. Not expand just a little to know a thing or two more, I ache for my mind to expand to the dimensions it can not yet comprehend through the layers it can not yet penetrate, beyond the colours on the spectrum to the prisms the frequencies to the scales it isn’t capable yet of taking in. I long, I long for it to make sense, in a way: a different kind of sense, a sense that I had never known could be made.
I yearn to absorb and be
I long, I
Sedartis is full of little insights which are borderline annoying. They are annoying, because they are obvious, and it’s possible only to be borderline annoyed with them, because they are obviously true. They are the kind of insights that make you wonder: why has nobody pointed this out to me in, say, year ten or eleven.
Since joining me, unbidden, uninvited, and taking up quasi-permanent residence by my side, he has sprung them on me at irregular intervals, which, on account of their irregularity, at least retain a mild but welcome element of surprise.
‘The reason time passes faster as you get older, relentlessly, is very simple,’ he informs me. I did not ask him about this, I was just looking out of the window of yet another moving train, this time to Dorset.
‘I imagine it is,’ I say, having for some time felt I had my own plausible theory about this.
‘At the age of one, one year is a hundred percent of your lifetime. That makes it really long. So long that you can’t fathom the sheer vastness of its duration: it is all of your life so far.’
I’m not sure that I can fathom it now, but for different reasons…
‘By the age of ten, that same year is now only a tenth of your lifetime. In absolute terms, it may be as long as any other year, but you don’t experience life in absolute terms, you experience life in relative terms, always: relative entirely to you. Your year is now just ten percent of your body of experience. By the age of fifty, one year has shrunk to a fiftieth of your lifetime: if somebody offered you a fiftieth part of a pie you’d barely think it worth eating. But it’s still a year, and it’s still a slice of your life. And aged a hundred, your year now hardly registers at all. You may well lose track and forget how old you are: was it a hundred and two or a hundred and three years ago now that you were born? Does it matter?’
‘This all makes perfect sense to me,’ I say to Sedartis, which it does, but: ‘why are you telling me? Now?’
‘Because you’re obviously at that point in your life when your perception of time reaches a tipping point: your life expectancy nowadays isn’t quite, but may soon be, about one hundred years, so around now, as you’re halfway through that more-or-less century of yours, your feeling of losing your grip on time will accelerate, and because you’re now no longer moving away from your birth, but towards your death, you will find this more and more disconcerting.’
‘What, more disconcerting than I find it already?’
‘Of course. But think not for one moment that you’d be happier if you lived longer.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Because: if you were to get to the point, say, where you habitually had an active conscious lifespan of ten thousand years, it would not feel that much longer than it does now: as you’d get towards the last millennium, each year would only be between one nine- and one ten-thousandth of your lifetime. That is about the same as three days for you are today. You would not experience a hundred times more than you do today, you would simply stretch your living out over a period a hundred times longer. And nor should that surprise you: when your life expectancy was thirty years or so, people did not generally think, our lives are so short; they simply did all their living inside those thirty years. No one would argue that Alexander the Great, for example, or Mozart, didn’t really get that much living done in the thirty-odd years of their lives.’
‘No,’ I say, thinking, a tad wistfully, of Tom Lehrer, ‘that, I’m sure, no one could argue.’
‘It is, in a not entirely obvious way, not unlike the Doppler Effect: the sound waves coming towards you are compressed so they appear to your ears higher than they do once the source of the sound has passed: now the waves are getting stretched, and so the pitch seems to drop. Of course, time is no wave, and the comparison is clumsy at best and misleading at worst, but if nothing else it’s another example of how your reality is shaped entirely by your experience of it. You may, if you like, refer to the phenomenon of a relative experience of time as the Sedartis Effect, I shan’t hold it against you if you do.’
If everything were perfect, as it is, how much would we crave disturbance?
The variants that made matter congeal. The idiom that expresses just what needs to be said. The waves within waveforms that ripple through time.
There are connections that never make sense, but they make me feel that I am a part of something. No one knows what. The friend of my nephew who is so gentle, so unassuming and yet so lovely. His exquisite taste. His mild and agreeable manner. His beautiful face. His warm and unfussy friendship. His ease that isn’t untroubled but that knows how to hold on to the core. His generous smile. His diligent gestures as he cooks us a meal that tastes like a dish for the gods. The faintly-haired legs that end in two so shapely feet. I could be here. This presence is one I could glow in forever. I’m sure.
Will ever I be able to find this and know that I have found it?
The strident thrust of a century recently launched, and with great fanfare too. Millennium. Nobody talks about that, no more. (A comma makes all the difference.)
There are aeroplanes flying overhead there are cars on the road there are people in the street about town. Forward motion, always. It likes me not; not always, not now. I long to ease. Not from now on, just for right now. Much needs to be done, but it’s good to do nothing, once in a while; just to float. Relent to slow the flow of time. Be. Not go anywhere. At all. Except you always do, don’t you. You can sit in a spot for eternity and when eternity is over you will have moved. Away from the centre, along the Milky Way, around the star, on your planet’s axis, many times.
Once upon a time in a story I knew this to be true and I said so and I said it was disconcerting, but nonetheless comforting, too. And it was. And it is.
Then a kiss.
< 6 Descending, Temporarily, Into the Unrequired Sludge of Unrequited (at Least to Reciprocal Level) Affection, Again
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