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The You That Was Here All Along

By Joz Norris. Not gonna lie – lockdown has, predictably enough, been a fairly lonely experience so far. And yet I’m finding, bit by bit, day by day, that I’m making friends with somebody I should probably have been putting more effort into getting to know this whole time. That person is myself, but the version of myself that actually exists, right here, right now, in the present, with all his strengths and weaknesses and flaws and mistakes and needs and wants. He is someone I haven’t paid much attention to for most of my life

Don’t get me wrong – I have paid an awful lot of attention to a different version of myself for thirty years. I’m a writer-performer, and as such, uncomfortable as I might feel admitting it, a chunk of my work comes not solely from an altruistic place of seeking to make other people happy, but also partly from a place of ego, of enjoying being looked at. As such, there is a version of myself that has often been the focus of my attention. That version of myself lives six months in the future, and always has, and always will.

Lockdown has made me acutely aware that I spend most of my life ignoring the present and concentrating on the future. I have endless documents on my computer keeping track of my projected finances over the next six months, to make sure that the version of myself six months from now has enough to live on. I have endless journal entries keeping track of creative projects I’ll be undertaking in the next six months to make sure that that version of myself will be doing enough to feel creatively fulfilled, and to feel like he’s keeping busy. Most of my activities and endeavours in the present are in thrall to that imaginary version of myself, six months from now. As long as I can look ahead to him and see that he seems to have enough – enough work, enough money, enough comfort, enough friends – based on the things I’m doing now to move myself towards him, then whatever I’m doing right now is in service of the right stuff.

I never actually get to meet this guy; by the time six months have passed, he has been swallowed up by the intervening time and marched on ahead of me again. Whatever things I did over that period of time will hopefully have brought a certain degree of happiness or stability or fulfilment, but they also all quickly get replaced by new concerns - “Now what do I do to keep myself on track? What does Future Me need from me next? What do I do today to make sure he’s going to be ok?” By the time another six months have passed and I’ve put the work into answering those questions, Future Me has danced off into the distance again and I’m back to repeating the same endless questions, over and over again.

One of the strangest things about the coronavirus crisis is the disappearance of the future. None of us know when our real lives will resume. We don’t know if they even will, full stop. We certainly don’t know what form they will take – to what extent will we be able to go back to doing what we did before? What changes are we going to have to make in order to continue? Will we even want to go back to how things were, or will the things we learn in this time cause us to make those changes willingly ourselves?

Once I’d accepted the horrible, disorienting terror of these questions, I suddenly realised that the version of myself that I had always been preoccupied by had disappeared. I couldn’t even see him any more, and I couldn’t care less what he was doing. I was suddenly reacquainted with the version of myself that had been here all along – the one that lives in my body and my brain, here, today, in this moment. The one who wants to go for a run now, and feels good after he’s done it. The one who wants to call his friend now, and feels good after he’s spoken to her. The one who wants to sit and read and be alone. The one who wants to video call some friends and play a game and be with people. The one who wants to cry for a while now. The one who wants to laugh until he cries.

None of these things seemed to have much of an impact on the version of myself I’d spent the last few decades fixated on, but it doesn’t seem to matter any more. The future has disappeared, and in its place the present, usually all too easy to ignore, has swum into absolute focus with one single question, so much simpler than all the other questions I’ve spent my life bothering with. “What do I want to do right now that will get me to the end of today feeling happy?” The only other question that seems to matter is “What can I do for the people I care about to make sure they’re getting to the end of each day feeling happy as well?” I sort of feel like these were the questions I should’ve been paying attention to all along. I hope when the future rears its ugly head again, I don’t forget to keep in touch with the me that was here all along.

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