I studied French for about seven years in grade school. By now, I’ve forgotten nearly all of what I learned, but one aspect of the language stayed with me: “time,” and how it’s defined. The French make a distinction between, say, the infinite concept of time (temps) and a specific hour of the day (heure)–so, to ask, “What time is it?”, you would say, “Quelle heure est-il?” It’s a kind of temporal compartmentalization that I wish I had the discipline to subscribe to. But for me, time, whether it be an hour, a moment (moment), or an occasion (fois), always exists on a continuum–an ever-plaguing one.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
It’s March already. At this point in the year most people have abandoned their resolutions, but I’ve been diligent about sticking with my promises. I think that has to do with the fact that my resolutions are ultimately born out of personal necessity. For example, last April I gave up meat and, despite the elitist ring to it, committed myself fully to a pescetarian diet as an emotional response to a particularly devastating breakup. This winter I grew a lumberjack beard because there was a part of me, an oft-ignored part, that wanted to see any face but my own in the mirror. And for the new year, I vowed to eat responsibly, bike obsessively, floss daily, socialize occasionally, sleep soundly, and read and write consistently because I felt disappointed that I had let all of those crucial behaviors fall by the wayside.
But with every commitment I take on, I struggle with time management. If I get a full eight hours, I can’t stay up and write, which is when I feel the most focused. If I eat as responsibly as I would like, I can’t rely on restaurants and pubs as venues for friendly hang sessions. (Conscious calorie counting takes every bit of enjoyment out of eating out.) And if I’m biking to and from work rather than taking the train, that’s just one hour less that I am able to read. I can understand how Stephen King has time to write two thousand words every day. I can understand how Jillian Michaels has time to work out every day. And I understand how Alton Brown has time to make healthy, home-cooked meals every day. But how the hell does a normal person with a full-time job have time to do all of these things?
That’s only part of it, though. The heure is hard enough to handle, but the thing that looms over me like a thunderous black cloud, the incessant ticking that maddens me like Poe’s pounding tell-tale heart, is the temps. Months ago, I submitted a piece to McSweeney’s entitled “A Graduate With an English Degree Pretends to Still Be an Avid Reader.” As with a dozen of my previous submissions, they rejected it, but the reply email read, “This doesn’t fail to amuse, but I’m afraid I’m going to pass. Thanks for considering us for it. Hope you’ll keep trying.” My first thought was, Hey! Progress! But then I realized that I was really no closer to making my mark than I was before I sent in that piece.
I’m a month away from my 28th birthday, years out from my unfruitful degree(s). Over time, I have accepted that I am a late bloomer and that I shouldn’t evaluate myself against the timeline of others, but the clock keeps ticking and time remaining is finite. It’s hard for me to exist in the creative world and not compare myself to other creatives. Relatively speaking, 27 is young, but it’s not 22. Unlimited potential has given way to measured expectations. By 27, Orson Wells had written, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane; Zuckerberg, born more than a month after me, is officially a billionaire. I mean, shit, there’s an entire club of legendary artists who died at the age of 27.
It’s obvious that I’ll miss the cutoff. And maybe that’s an important thing to come to grips with–that I’m not a boy-genius, that I’m not a natural. But that reality runs counter to encouragement of our youth. We all had heroes growing up, people we aspired to be like–for me, there were many: Jordan, Walt Disney, Roger Ebert, Martin Yan, Woody Allen (the writer/director, not the man), Raphael (the ninja turtle, not the artist), and nearly ad infinitum. The harsh truth, though, is that I never had a chance to be like any of them. That kind of greatness is rarer than precious metal and inborn as if anointed at birth.
But you can hardly teach a child to just aim lower. I wonder, at what point on the continuum do people acknowledge their averageness? Do all people learn that lesson or are some fortunate in their ignorance? For the people who do accept this truth, what does it feel like?
Greenberg, Noah Baumbach’s film about crippling anxiety brought on by unexceptionalism, has a great line near the end that goes, “It’s huge to finally embrace the life you never planned on.” I tried to think about what that moment felt like for me, but I couldn’t come up with anything. To be honest, I’m not so sure that I’ve gotten there yet. It would feel like a betrayal of that boy in awe of so many heroes to say that the moon was no longer a reasonable target.
Joshua Covell is a New Hampshire transplant who loves the big city lights and a state that completely sidesteps the national political spotlight but pines for good seafood and a proper time zone. He is a writer, editor, and co-founder of STFU, Internet.