In unison and in public we protest against many things: racism, austerity, rising tuition fees. These are forms of protest that are publicly visible and for which we take to the streets. But, in this piece I want to talk about a form of protest that is not so visible, a protest that cannot be fought on the streets, but must rather be fought on a personal level. This is a piece about my personal protest against the future.
So many mechanisms in the world around me are constantly seeking to distract me from my present experiences. I am continuously told to think about my future or asked about my future, as if the present was irrelevant and merely some sort of terminal we are all waiting in, waiting for the arrival of our great, yet-to-be experiences. People ask me what I want to do in the future, where I would like to live in the future – and I find myself asking others the same questions. I am compelled to think ahead by everything that surrounds me. Christmas decorations start lighting up dark streets in November, autumn collections appear in clothes stores while the sun still bakes our necks on the streets. These thought-projections keep us anticipating and preparing for what is to come, and make us forget to live life in the present.
I have several prospects for my eventual graduation. I have an endless list of places I want to go, things I want to do. I’m not saying that I’m not in fact extremely excited for the time that lies ahead of me. But I am also afraid of becoming lost in moments that do not yet exist, lost in lurid daydreams of days yet to come. Those future experiences don’t exist yet; they lie somewhere far ahead on the horizon of time, bobbing like moored fishing boats at sea.
And so I wish to protest against this frame of mind, constantly projecting and anticipating the unreal. I protest against the future because, quite simply, I need to experience the present. I want to be fully aware of the complete vulnerability of this moment, as I slip unnoticeably out of myself and observe my body from the outside. At times like this, time and space freezes; and nothing but the space I happen to be in and the people sharing it with me exists. These are moments of belonging, when I notice that people who I love and care about surround me. I realize how lucky and happy I am, as a university student, sitting in my kitchen or at a pub with friends, discussing topics that intrigued us in today’s lecture, or immersing myself in the rhythms that throb out from the stage at a concert I am attending, creating sound waves that crush against time itself, making me become immobilized in that one moment. I want to be fully aware of that which I am doing right now, the people I am sharing this moment with and the things we are discussing or doing; is LIFE.
As special as these moments are, however, we won’t always be together like this, captured in our own intimate time capsule. In a few minutes time, weeks or years from now, we will find ourselves in different places, amongst different people. It is such a banal and obvious statement, saying one should live in the present, but everything around us seems to make us forget that life in fact is not what we will all be doing in two hours, weeks or years from now, life is nothing more than the sum of what we are doing and feeling and experiencing RIGHT NOW.
We are taught to plan ahead, make strategic decisions that will ensure us a stable and safe and comfortable future. We are taught to think and act rationally and make rational choices that will secure us good jobs. We are told that we might have to sacrifice a little bit here and a little bit there, but that it is worth it because the outcome of these rational choices and sacrifices will secure us a brilliant, bright, perfect future. But you might never reach what you are waiting for, the house you are dreaming of, the person you want to be with, that place you have always dreamt of travelling to. The future becomes almost like a fetish, a goal we will never reach as it keeps deluding us. I don’t want to look back at my life and discover that I was never fully and entirely aware of this present. Because looking back, it all becomes past and the brilliant futures that we kept envisioning, when turning round and looking back at the path of time, have in fact been surpassed by us; suddenly all those futures we envisioned are behind us. Because we have been so fixated on reaching them, we never noticed all those futures becoming presents as we passed them. And all those moments when we were dragged down so deeply into the trenches of securing and worrying and hoping and wishing time could just move faster so we could get where we truly wanted to be, will in the end be moments lost, where the present disappeared without us noticing because our heads where stuck in the sand, thinking ahead, not noticing the right now. I do not mean to say that we should not make plans for the future, but I do not want the present to be limited to a state of waiting and looking ahead, but to feel that this very moment of time is important and unique.
I protest against making decisions based purely on securing a future that in no way is secure in the first place. Just like Santa Claus, the future doesn’t really exist, it is a sort of illusion, which keeps us pleasantly occupied and living in the hope that the best is always to come. I believe that living with such a notion will actually never allow the experience of what could be the “best moment of your life”: if you believe that it is always ahead of you, you will never reach it and you might just miss experiencing the greatest NOW you will ever be part of.
And so, now, I just want to be alone with the present and those sharing it with me. The future can wait, it always has.
Maia Birtles is a second year Anthropology student at SOAS from Norway. She hopes to be able to combine two of her dearest interests, travelling and writing, in order to make a living in the future. She is also one of those slightly stubborn people who find iPhones unromantic and wishes everyone still had typewriters and vinyl records in their homes.