Living, Fast and Slow

I’ve always been fast, and everyone in my life knows it.

“Slow down,” my teachers would tell me when it was my turn to read out loud. My classmates, on the other hand, loved it–when it served them. When we were almost done with reading a passage aloud, they would volunteer me to read the rest of that passage in order to spend the rest of the class time goofing off.

The speed at which I approached life extended to my schoolwork as well. I dashed through math worksheets, sped through books, and scribbled my way through vocabulary word stories, finally getting to the point of the stories after writing ten times the words my classmates had… in the same time.

That was nothing compared to my adult life ahead.

I started keeping a paper journal in September 1998, when my journal consisted of “I <3 [some guy]” scribbled everywhere on the pages and a “Things I Love/Things I Hate” list on the back page.

I wrote everywhere: during class, on the bus, while waiting in the gym for classes to begin every morning, I managed to scribble down a few words. Every book I read received a note in these journals, a plethora of information I could add to my Goodreads profile now if I were so inclined.

More importantly, I chronicled everything worth noting, right down to the lines of dialogue that I could remember, something I wasn’t terribly bad at back then. Thanks to all the spare time I had back then, I could do this in between living my life, scribbling down interesting incidents before going on to do something else, using the memories from my experiences to shape a tale for Future Sushi to examine. Something I struggle to find time for now.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Especially in recent years, I’ve come to realize that my time on this planet is short, and I can’t make that short time longer. Even worse, a lot of my time as a young adult has been wasted through never having time and money at the same time, time I could have spent living it up, building friendships, scribbling down words, finding myself.

Could have. Should have. Would have.

Those thoughts echo through my mind as I scramble through the years in vain, trying to make up for lost time that I’ll never get back, knowing that even if I pursue the world at double speed now, nothing makes up for that lost time.

That doesn’t stop me from structuring my days so I can get the most done possible. From making sure I get everything done at my regular job, then build in time for my freelance work, and then editing Wikiwrimo and saying yes to social outings (however small in number) and doing the occasional Pokemon Go raid, there isn’t much time afterward to read everything I want and write everything I want and unscramble everything that’s been going on in my head and maybe watch a thing or two and return to those novels that have been sitting there unedited for years and try to catch up on all the cultural stuff I’ve missed over the years.

I can juggle all these things for awhile, but eventually I give out. Something has to give.

The crashes are slow, sure, and inconveniently timed, and I find myself living in a state of lethargy and indifference, unable to tell if it’s burnout or depression or something else entirely. Nothing makes sense anymore. I find myself trying to relax by writing, but inevitably I find myself thinking of ways to optimize my time: through cleaning the house or picking up groceries or crossing something off the mountain that is my to-do list. The high from accomplishing something, experiencing that sense of truly living and accomplishing, is not something sought out when relaxing, so when I’m relaxed, my first instinct is to search for that high again.

It is an addiction in a way, but despite the look, it isn’t a productive one. But off I go again to chase that productive high from accomplishing something.

The struggle comes because I truly want to soak in the experience instead of thinking of what comes next, how much longer am I going to be sitting here, why am I just standing here doing nothing. I’ve managed to take in the full experience before while not letting these thoughts intrude: at some concerts where everyone is crammed into the same too-tight space next to the stage, while being alone with my thoughts on particularly long walks, while exploring new places and the wonders contained within. Lately, however, seeking out these new things has become more difficult: partly due to the colder weather outside, partly due to recovering from this recent crash, and partly due to knocking tasks off the growing to-do list.

Despite all my desire to the contrary, I keep living fast anyway. One problem with living life in the fast lane is that I miss so much. Doing so much work leaves all the remaining time to be split between everything else in my life, which is no small feat. Requiring more sleep than the average person doesn’t help much, cutting into the time I could spend doing everything else and even less time for recharging for the next big thing ahead.

I heard recently that our mindsets start to settle and we become less open to new experiences at around age 33. True or not, it scares me, in part because I’ll be 33 next year. I’ve already lost a lot of time due to suboptimal financial situations where I couldn’t explore things that required money. Living life fast now, in a way, was my solution to that. Now I’m rethinking everything, trying to make up for lost time so I can live the rest of my life without these haunting thoughts telling me to live more, do more, be more, while relaxing guilt-free at the same time.

According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, we have two selves: the experienced self and the remembered self. The experienced self lives in the moment. But the remembered self is the one that keeps score, shaping these experiences into a narrative to be used in the future.

“Odd as it may seem,” Kahneman writes, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

I’ve struggled with my remembering self for over a decade, trying to fashion my experiences into a cohesive story, but that’s not always the way to live life. My attempts to embrace the experienced self play into why I’ve struggled with keeping my paper journal in recent years; after all, I could be living my life instead of recounting what has already happened. Instead of living my life in the present, I find myself hovering between the past and the future, recounting what has already happened while thinking ahead to what needs to happen next. My experienced self is indeed a stranger.

I wish I knew how to fix this. If I did, I would be doing that instead of writing this post. All this is why I’ve made the 2019 resolution of being a better person instead of the usual laundry list of goals. Being happy in the moment and not always thinking about the next thing will make me happier in the long run than chasing some list of goals, even those I want deeply. And as a stranger I talked to at lunch said recently, she always accomplished more when she didn’t make resolutions. Maybe I’ll do the same by trying to be better and living a little more slowly.

One thought on “Living, Fast and Slow

  1. I wouldn’t worry overmuch about turning 33 and suddenly becoming rigid. The latter half of my 30s was when i’ve had the best explosion of growth and creativity. I went back to college at 34. A crash after a year led to my diagnosis of ADHD and depression (Which explained a lot). I was also told at the time that a lot of women have a sort of crash in their mid-30s, when everything they’ve been pushing down and ignoring can come to the surface. Maybe, that’s right, I don’t know.

    But I do know that it was at about that same time that I fell into fandom, I rediscovered my love and passion for writing. I’ve discovered a home and a community over the last few years and it’s been an amazing feeling.

    I’m turning 40 in a few weeks and feeling kinda iffy about that, but I’ve also got folks on the other side telling me that 40s is great, is freedom. I will (hopefully) see. I’ve been thinking a lot lately myself about time, and how none of us know for sure how much is measured for us.

    You’ll figure it out. You’ll muddle through. Time will keep passing quicker than you expect. But it’s okay, it’s life. I know I’m just a person from the internet, but I know you’re good people. And I think, in the end, it will be alright.

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