Thursday, January 02, 2020

Unsettling Prospects

A deeply discouraging start to the new year. More on that anon, maybe: I have my end of the year report to get out. Stepping back a ways, I can see that I'm just a couple pounds and a waistline inch on the wrong side of the blue lines, with both numbers being about where they were a year ago: I haven't gained ground but I haven't lost it either. The important habits are in still in place. The recent defeats may have been local and temporary. We'll see.

A lot of reading that has given me furiously to think. Tony Judt's Postwar, a history of Europe from 1945 to 2005 (which is when it was written), was excellent. I, like everyone else in the West, paid far too little attention to the details of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Finally making up a little lost ground there. But I have at least some context for understanding the EU and Brexit and Orban and so forth, now. It's strange to be so old that I can read judicious and illuminating narrative histories of times I actually lived through.

And, running athwart that stream, I read David Sinclair's Lifespan: Why We Age -- and Why We Don't Have To. From the title you would assume a tiresome and stupid book full of silly claims, but it's actually a serious and thoughtful book by a respectable Harvard medical researcher. He thinks, with good reason, that living to 120 years in good health will soon be normal, rather than exceptional -- for people who can afford it, anyway.

It's an interesting thought-experiment: what if I have sixty good years in front of me? How would I change my life, how would I think about it? I have been assuming, reasonably enough, that I have five to fifteen years of good health in front of me, which is time enough to wind down and tidy up. How does the prospect of sixty years change things? That's another lifetime, as we have traditionally reckoned these things: plenty of time to establish a new career or two, or to take on some really big projects. It's an appealing prospect, and whether Sinclair turns out to be right or not, it's interesting to just "try on the view," as Lama Michael used to say. I am by habit inclined to focus on cutting losses: it's healthy for me to buck that tendency. Supposing I don't deteriorate? What if fifteen years from now I'm getting fitted with new-grown eyes and ears, and can do calligraphy and eavesdrop in cafes better than ever? Priorities shift: proportions change.

You don't realize how confined your point of view has been, until you come to a sudden prospect and look into the distance.

But it's also unsettling, and stirs up anxieties from the bottom of the pond. Questions about being good enough, and unwelcome impulses toward grandiosity. I don't want those demons back.

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