40. Future perfect

How walking will have changed my life

(This month marks the second anniversary of this newsletter. I started it when I closed my Facebook account, as a way to maintain those casual digital connections. Two years in it remains a work in progress, and also a work out of progress. In many ways, it just is.

May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m very aware of my mental health, and a lot of this newsletter deals with that.)

Thanks for reading.

Five years ago walking changed my life, a little or maybe a lot. (I am bereft of profundity, to the point I’m writing sentences like “I am bereft of profundity”.) It did change my life. Really.

How are you?

Five years ago I left my second wife. I tried to write that differently, but that’s the truth of it. People say it’s easier to be the one who leaves and those people need to shut the hell up. I don’t know anyone who’s ended a relationship and not felt terrible about it, even people in objectively awful relationships. This shit is hard.

I paired that with a yearlong sabbatical from having a home. See, what you want to do when you experience a giant life change is add another giant life change, so you can’t tell whether what you’re feeling is caused by one thing or the other. This is classic Art of War shit, where you overwhelm your enemy with competing, equally compelling areas of focus. The enemy here being my own thoughts.

I developed a bad case of insomnia. Can you call something a “case” if it lasts a year? It was a yearlong case of insomnia. I either couldn’t get to sleep before 2am or I’d wake up around 4:30, that kind of wide awake where you think you’ve forgotten to write an essay you’ve had all semester to write. PING! Like someone’s shouted FIRE and you’re on a submarine.

At first I tried to deal with it like any reasonable adult—by hoping it would go away. You can imagine my surprise when it didn’t. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture. It’s incredibly incapacitating, akin to being drunk. Trying to think your way out of insomnia is like trying to dig your way out of a hole. And boy howdy I was digging up!

I didn’t want to be alone. I felt strange around other people. I’d leave a pub night and on the bus or overground experience an intense sense of dislocation. Since public transit meltdowns are about as fun as they sound I’d get off and start walking. After awhile I started doing this on purpose, before I could feel wrong, getting off at earlier and earlier stops until finally I was walking all the way home.

Dalston to Peckham. Regent to Victoria Park. Huge stretches of London along streets I’d otherwise have never seen. This didn’t cure my insomnia. I’d get back exhausted and pass right out, but still be wide awake by 6. That probably doesn’t sound too early for some, but relative to my sleep schedule I was basically taking power naps.

So I started walking to work in the morning, sometimes arriving an hour before anyone else. This, along with my pseudo-homelessness, lead to the rumour I was living in the office. I did not live in the office. I just used it to do my laundry. And occasionally sleep. And cook.

This also didn’t cure my insomnia. Only therapy and running and quitting my job and various other life changes did that. And while walking is recommended for providing a host a benefits, physical, mental, and emotional, that’s not why I did it so much.

The main reason I walked so much was to reach the state of having walked.

Walking taught me the motivation that can be found in wanting to have done something. In grammar this verb tense is known, somewhat awesomely, as the FUTURE PERFECT.

A lot of decisions I’ve made since then I’ve made by asking, will I have wanted to have done this? Being in a musical. Running a half marathon. Applying for a job. Leaving a job. In the perfect future, what choice will I have made? It’s not magic, to the extent I don’t time travel. But imagining a future Thom looking back puts me in the position in which I often find myself, namely as present Thom agonising over the past.

What if you could shift that to the now, before it even (doesn’t) happen? Can’t wait for the Christopher Nolan movie about this.

Right now I’m mulling over some big life decisions. Or maybe they’re irrelevant. That’s the funny thing about decisions. On a long enough timeline, all of them kind of flatten out. And I’m wondering what future Thom will make of them. What will he have wanted present Thom to do? I think I know. I’ve gotten to know present Thom quite well. He’s not so bad, when you walk with him for awhile.

On 13 May 2021 I walked from Haarlem to Amsterdam, a journey of about 21km. I did it to have done it, but also to make this video. I hope you like it.