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Sunday, 27 January 2019

Back On The Shelf

When I was asked when I was five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said with full confidence that I wanted to be a robot.

It didn't take long for that to become wanting to be an astronaut, I think maybe because I realised when I was about six that robots get built and people get born and I was in the latter section of society. I don't remember being that upset about the revelation. I mean, today - if I was fully of the belief that in several years I would be contained in the chassis of an immortal machine, then told today that it wasn't going to happen, I'd be livid.

Other, more feasible dreams followed.

Being wealthy and happy after an indeterminate period of time, because all you had to do was live that long. Being a rock star. Being a professional writer. Being a rock star again. Being a writer again. That kind of calibre of aspiration, running at that kind of level of want or need. It was joined with a variety of other dreams, like travelling the entire world, living in California (I was young enough that I couldn't really differentiate different bits of an albeit huge state), owning a Lamborghini, owning a private jet.

I can tell you the approximate moment in my life when depression really started to kick in, and that was when I was thirteen years old, because my dreams and aspirations started to change.

Now, a lot of folks - the kind of folks who like to use terms like "never did me any harm" or "back in my day" or "that's just the way it is suck it up" - would point out that this is just part of growing up. You put your childish dreams away, and you start having adult ones. Right?

Well, my dreams and aspirations started to include getting through a school day without being verbally abused or physically assaulted.

Dreams of getting out of school and having a job, and maybe owning a record store, and having a flat that was near the shops. Of living near a railway line so I could hear the trains rattling through the night. Of being able to open my windows and hear the world existing outside them, without having to be out in it. Things became a lot more prosaic.

Around about 15, when I had to put down the groundwork for the rest of my educational life, I had dreams that I'd be successful. That I'd have an office in a legal firm, and a bowl on my desk which I would fill with cherry tomatoes, and eat throughout the day. ...I mean, I had no idea what a career in law actually entailed but I had to pick something, and the panic attack I had during the careers meeting didn't help much. Those dreams included waking up and wanting to do the things that I had to do that day, which was steadily becoming more and more unlikely - but the vague dreams of travel, of seeing things that interested me, of seeing the bands I loved, still remained.

Funny how things change.

When you're a teenager you never conceive of having a medical condition that could literally stop you doing things you want to do. Physical OR mental. It happens to other people you know, but you never really consider what it means, let alone what it is like to have it happen to you. That is, in fairness, partly because of society's habit to assume that every illness or condition can be prevented as long as you do the right thing. If you ever need evidence of that, ask people with chronic health conditions the advice they have been given by people without those conditions. (I have some stories, I tell you.)

So life happens to you - life in the boundary of the world as it stands today, here and now. Life in the expanding gulf between rich and poor, wherein all the things that you were promised as a child of the seventies, eighties or nineties becomes the purview of a thinner and thinner slice of society.

It can feel like calcification. Like a million doors that were previously open are closing one at a time, even if now and then a new one opens.

That's why it's important to grab onto the ones that are left, where you can.

It is easy to spend one's life staring at the aspirations on the shelf that we can't reach for any more. I understand that. The mentality of it - how hard it can be to reach for the new thing, when the old things we wanted so badly are unreachable. We have to find the things to reach for that we can grasp. We need to find our victories where we can, rather than pine for win conditions that no longer exist. It's the only way we can keep going. And if those win conditions are as simple as having a day end wherein you actually look forward to waking up tomorrow, then draw your plans and march your troops.

Everyone needs something to strive for.

I don't think there is some overarching point to this ramble. It's something that has been occupying my thoughts recently, after I was asked what I wanted to be when I was a kid, and I had the most incredible wave of nostalgia wash over me as I remembered the one thing I really, really wanted to be was a robot.

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