Every year, as winter’s death rattle sounds out across the city and the first shafts of sun warm our tired bones, the same human migration gets underway and I stand in the shadows and watch with fascination. This is a migration outside. Like the shedding of a skin, the people of London rummage to the back of their wardrobes to a pile they last left neatly folded in early October. Last week temperatures broke into the 20s and the magnolia began to open. People all around the city were in shorts and tees and sunglasses and good cheer.
And it was February.
And then a cloud moved across the sun and the temperature dropped by ten degrees and the crowds were running for the bars to change their Aperols for mulled wine to encamp by the fire and begin a five hour game of scrabble.
Because it was February.
In my mind everything means something else. What now. So I went big. I think this over-eagerness for spring holds a mirror up to the way we move through life. When we’re young our hearts are full of fire and hope and we go out into the world with our swords drawn and our battle cries echo on the wind for all to hear. When spring kicks off people hit the kerb in bikinis and flip-flops and start sunbathing on roundabouts and come night fall – which is still around half six – they get their arses handed to them by a sharp drop in temperature.
As we get older we grow into life. Our battle cries turn to murmurs. We know the strength of our swords but we keep them sheathed. As spring firms up its grip and the mercury rises and the days draw out, we become more certain of what to step out of the house in. We stash the scarf in the bag, drape the jumper over the shoulder, close the door behind us and walk back inside to casually throw on the gilet. Our experiences of the world inform us how to take our place in it. And then life goes to work on us too.
At the end of the Amy documentary, Tony Bennett says the words…
Life teaches you how to live it, if you only give it time.
And I thought to myself. What the hell have I learnt in the last decade. Has my mind changed that much from the days when my belly was full of fire and I wanted to be a rapper and I had more opinions than I knew what to do with, definitely more than I could fit in my bumbag. I still have a bumbag.
With a healthy sprinkling of humility and a drizzle of trepidation…
I would say that These Things I Know.
1. The world isn’t so bad. But sometimes I just can’t see it.
2. The world is throbbing with beauty and possibility, if growing older is anything it’s fine-tuning the art of learning how to look.
3. Family is the most important thing I have. That’s why they bust my balls so fucking hard. Because I love them. But I didn’t get to choose them. I was forced together with them, and this coming together is a necessary friction.
4. Nothing I see on the internet will improve my life in a substantial way. That’s not where real things reside.
5. Six completely contradictory beings live inside me simultaneously. I am kind and selfish and zen and angry and an angel and an arsehole and the rest of it, all at the same time.
6. If I really listen to somebody, right to the end, until they’ve finished what it is they want to say, rather than waiting until the moment when I can interject, I feel the warmth flood out of a person towards me who feels heard.
7. A conversation can be a battlefield, and it can be a meandering path through a wood.
8. When a conversation is a battlefield, ceding my ground and listening to what I don’t believe in means I get to know both things.
9. My old man will read this and be like STOP WITH THE PHILOSOPHY.
10. Someone told me recently they had never met somebody more consumed by what their parents thought of them.
11. I should try to be less of that.
13. People are the most important thing in the world.
14. We know this because when the people we love die our world stops. And they take a part of us we can never get back. But by speaking their names and using our minds, both in our words and our memory, we keep them alive. Coco the Pixar film taught me this.
15. All things are mysteriously connected.
16. Giving my heart completely to someone will be the most difficult thing I do.
17. If it was between wisdom and knowledge, I’d take wisdom. But I don’t know very much and I am not wise. If I was wise I wouldn’t keep making the same mistakes.
18. For the first time in my life FOMO is beginning to feel like rain running over Gore-Tex. If I really wanted to hang out with someone, I probably would.
19. If I could have one virtue above all others it would be….
20. Life is going to run away with me unless I fill it with things I am going to remember.
21. Which means finding out what I love, and doing more of that.
22. And watching the things that make me unhappy, and doing less of those.
24. However good it is, nothing I read on a computer screen will give me the same pleasure I get from reading something good in a good book.
25. There really is magic in the world.
THE PROBLEM WITH ALL THIS
is I don’t know any of it.
I only know this because I’ve had it chugging around in my mind for a few days like the clothes inside a washing machine, and then I sat down for a while to get it all down. Much of the time it’s as if I know the opposite of all this. I forget these things on a daily basis, and put the complete opposite of them into practice. But I do know it. I just don’t remember that I do.
Socrates said that all learning is remembering.
Am I happier now?
I don’t know. I’m more used to the interior design of my brain than I ever have been. Some nice soft-furnishings and the mood lighting is tight. I don’t know if I’m happier, but I’m more content to be inhabiting my own being. And seeing as this is the only place I have to live for as long as that might last, this sounds like an improvement. More than anything, the passage of time has taught me what not to give a shit about. Which feels like freedom.
Life teaches you how to live it. If you only give it time.
Outside the early March sun is low in the sky, moving through the gears, gaining altitude. Saturday morning is a big white sheet of paper to draw on, a day full of possibilities. The magnolia is swaying in the breeze, the birds are proclaiming their love for it all. My mind is an invincible Summer and Spring is resoundingly here. My scarf and jacket are hanging on the wall. I glance up at them, pause, and walk out, closing the door behind me.