Don’t Think About the Future

Picture me back in the habit. Another week lapsed. Another grandparent lost to the other side. Two weeks after my father’s mother, my mother’s father is also on to the next adventure. My grandfather was a great man who gave me more than I could ever repay. Generosity, as word, is truly insufficient. I can look at virtually every corner of my life and see something of him in it. Every family has some form of sovereignty at its center, and for us, he and his wife were our quiet king and queen.

Don’t think about the future. Think about the now. Think in moments. Small, bits of time. How they feel. Then think about stretching them out. Every second. Grab a hold of them and pull. Stretch them until they blend, one into another. Slowwwww things down. It makes life last longer. We are not very good at that, and time is ever more precious to us, isn’t it? That’s why I chose this odd name, Don’t Think About the Future. It’s something we need to get better at. Our futures depend upon it.

Think, instead, about your body. Not how it looks, but how it feels. Right now.

Think about your toes. Try to feel the little one on the right. When you move it, see if you can feel it, and it alone. Trace a line up now, up your foot to your ankle. Think about that little joint. How it holds your body up. How it absorbs the shock of every step you take on every hard surface. Think about jumping and see your ankle through the skin, moving like a machine. Think your way up further. Shin. Knee. Hip. Groin. Think about your abdomen. Think about what you’ve put in there. Think about what your body is doing with it. Think about whether you’re happy with that. But don’t think about making better choices next time, because that’s thinking about the future. You ate those french fries, and that is ok.

Think about your heart. It’s beating, right now, in your chest. Look down. Imagine it in there, working. It’s always been this way. It has always been beating in there. Each beat matters. Heart beats are a finite resource. You’ll spend 100,000 of them today. But don’t think about that, because today isn’t over yet and now you’re thinking about the future. Don’t think about how you get 35 million beats in a year. Or, about how you get 2.5 billion beats in a lifetime. Don’t think about how, one day, your heart will just stop.

Think about your brain. It’s sitting in fluid in the tank of your skull. Look up a bit. It’s up there and back a little. Think about how your brain told your eyes to look up just a tiny, tiny bit before you thought about looking up. Your thinking — and your thinking about thinking — is made possible by electrical activity, quietly zapping back and forth in there. Think about your brain, this hot, three-pound ball of soft mystery. Your battery. Now, stay in there for a moment longer.

Think about colors. Red, blue, green, and yellow, specifically. In that order. Think about them in your brain. Red, front right; blue, back right; green, front left; yellow, back left. Repeat this sequence, slowly. Spend a moment focusing on each color. At least one person believes this is how you can open a line of communication with aliens. I think it’s a great way to not think about the future.

Think about washing dishes. You have a dishwasher, but loading a dishwasher takes only a few minutes and then you go back to looking at your phone. Hand-washing dishes is better for your soul. So, think about hand-washing them. You are holding a dish in your hand. Warm, soapy water pours over it and you. With your other hand, you scrub at it with a brush in circular movements. Think about each detail: Picking up the dish from within the sink. Rinsing it. Scrubbing it. Rinsing it again. Placing it on the rack next to the sink. Picking up the next one. This goes on for twenty minutes or so. When you finish, you dry your hands and walk away to find a screen to look at. You forget about the things you were thinking about while you washed the dishes. But you shouldn’t. Because most of life is washing dishes. Mundane, repetitive tasks are good for thinking.

Think about the book on your nightstand. The one you’re reading, not the one you might read someday. Because that would be thinking about the future. Think about what you like about this book. Think about how you feel when you hold it in your hands. Think about how time slows down when you’re deeply immersed in it.

Think about a word. Any single-syllable word. Say it over and over again until it loses its meaning. Repeat it until it feels like you are speaking a foreign language. Until it feels like your tongue and mouth are big and slow and your mind is suspended inside a strange person-suit. Don’t stop until it feels that weird. Now try it with your own name. The same thing will happen. Maybe even faster than with that other word you chose. To push your own name out of meaning is a powerful experience. You should do it more often. It beats thinking about the future. Because in that moment, you know nothing, and really, nobody knows anything about the future.

Think about the people you passed on the street today. Think about who they are and how they see the world. Think about what they see when they pass you. Slow that moment down until you feel like you are staring inappropriately or that you might just fall over because you’ve stopped thinking about walking forward. If you fall, that’s ok. You’ll be embarrassed for a moment but you’ll have something new to think about. And you’ll have a story to tell. Hey, guys, today I forgot how to walk for a second and I fell over on the sidewalk. And you’ll realize that, for a moment, you reset. So that you could feel the world around you differently. So that you could think about the now again. You got out of your head and back into your body.

Don’t think about the future? What is this nonsense?! We are awash in time. We swim in it. We are to time as fish are to water. We know nothing outside of it. To think about the now is to think about the future. To think about the past — well, that, too, becomes thinking about the future. Because now is someone else’s future. Someone who didn’t get to see it. But you did. Don’t think about that? How? Well, it’s a discipline. You practice it. Not all the time, of course, but when you need to. And you do need to. Otherwise, you are subject to the tyrannical acceleration of the digital. The digital knows nothing of heartbeats, of minds, or of your need for quiet. The digital knows nothing of your body and its limits. The digital will take all you give it and more. And it starts with thinking about the future. The bit to come. It feeds on your anticipation and it has taught you well to anticipate even the most trifling of input. It has bought you with emails, texts, and status updates. Chimes and soft buzzing in your pocket. It has bought you cheaply. So, don’t think about the future. That is your power now. Use it wisely.

I didn’t say it makes sense, you know. All philosophy, after all, is the tidy arrangement of technicalities.

Heavy Rotation

No order, just: Unflesh, by Gazelle Twin. 36 Seasons, by Ghostface Killah. A Lesson Unlearnt, by Until the Ribbon Breaks.

On Screen

I’ve watched three Amazon pilots. One was wonderful, one was awful, and the other was just kind of unnecessary.

So, the awful first: The Man in the High Castle. This is an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel in which the fraidy-cats who thought their show might never see episode-two otherwise felt the need to reveal the magical, metaphysical, end-of-story conceit in the first fifteen minutes and give it a silly, media facelift. Oh, and I kind of lied. I didn’t watch this show — not the entire thing anyway. No, despite the impressive scenery, I gladly turned it off after about twenty minutes of some of the worst dialogue I have heard in a long time. This is a show in which almost every line is exposition. This is a show that includes the line, “What with your father’s death and all…” What’s perplexing is how many people are, nonetheless, praising this pilot! Does it get miraculously better after the first twenty minutes? I bet no on that.

Second, the unnecessary: Mad Dogs is a strange show about four sad, middle-aged guys who join their fifth friend at his newly purchased estate in Belize. He has become rich, they have not. They think he doesn’t deserve it. That may be, but neither do they, because they are sad, bitter, entitled jerks, and not in a well-drawn-character kind of way. The majority of this pilot is the entirely predictable money-jealousy psychodrama that ensues. But then it all gets summarily resolved over dinner (people who have endured this thing will understand my spoiler-control in that reference), placing the friends in a new predicament that could be wrapped up in pretty short order. Which left me wondering, why bother making a show about this?

Finally, the wonderful. The New Yorker Presents is a wonderful televisionization of the magazine. It follows the format perfectly. There’s an arts piece. There’s a longform thing. There are cartoons (and you get to see them animated into existence, which is fun). There’s a “Shouts and Murmurs!” Basically, this is Sesame Street for adults. The longform segment is a wonderful short documentary directed by Jonathan Demme, who brings to life last year’s article, “A Valuable Reputation,” about Tyrone Hayes, a biologist stalked and harassed by an evil pharma company that didn’t like his conclusion that their pesticides ruin frogs. They denied the thing about the frogs and they denied they were stalking Hayes. But Hayes was right about the frogs and the stalking. And he’s not bitter. He’s a kind, warm, genuine, funny person. How he’s not the Neil Degrasse Tyson of biology, I don’t know. I’m looking forward to this show being picked up. The others, not so much.

Recent Tabs

1995 was the year of the ’net, so we can all disconnect now. Also, it’s one thing that we do this to ourselves, but it is wrong — WRONG, I TELL YOU! — to do it to dogs. A big-rig hauling frozen chicken collided with a truck carrying bees in Southern California, igniting a fireball that quickly cooked the chicken. These are the people in your email. “But I don’t want to cure cancer. I want to turn people into dinosaurs.” Praise be the asteroid. Postcards from a Supply Chain, which include fascinating stories from a software developer’s journey aboard a container ship, but I’ll be honest, I’m really in it for the pictures. There’s something about the scale Dan captures which is perfectly otherworldly for me, uninitiated in the ways of transcontinental container shipping as I am. Automatic image completion is yet another quiet mind-blower from Microsoft Research. The Myth of AI. Why cats love boxes. Oh, and here’s a link to that thing about how you can open a line of communication with aliens. “Sobs in presence of truth.”


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Written by Christopher Butler on February 11, 2015,   In Essays

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