Until I was 22 years old I had obsessive compulsive disorder. It started when I was around 14 years old, but maybe earlier – as a ten year old, hopping down the sidewalk, chanting “Don’t step on a crack or…” This chant made its way into my life and inserted itself as a fixture later on – so that I saw the opportunity to influence big events through the small decisions I made in my daily life. The impulse would say “You must wear red socks or else you will fail the exam.” Or “You must not eat the last potato chip or your boyfriend will break up with you.” As I got older, I found myself challenging myself in this way more and more, as though seeing how far these bets could go. Writing essays in my fourth year of university, after finding the most articulate sentence I could, I would tell myself, “You must not use that sentence or else you will not get into the National Theatre School” – even though the essay had no connection to the school. There was no clear cause and effect between these choices.
A friend and flatmate broke this habit for me when I was 22 by just not letting me do it. Whereas other close friends, family and partners had been very accommodating of it, she just would not let me leave the cheese in the centre of the fridge because I thought it had some connection to a boy I liked calling. Once someone took a hard lined stance on it, I stepped back from it and finally understood that this was about control. I was trying to influence things over which I had no or little control by putting stakes onto small inconsequential choices over which I usually had total control. So – when the little voice came, I’d identify what the stakes I was imposing were. I’d ask myself, “Have I done everything in my power to rationally influence that situation in the way I’d like to?” If I was wearing a pair of socks to influence the result of an exam, I understood that studying would be better than wearing the right socks. I decided that if I’d done everything I could, I’d just have to trust myself and leave the rest to chance.
In the initial stages of thinking about a piece about the future, control strongly comes into play. And of course, responsibility and fragility. How do we come to terms with what hasn’t happened yet? And where does that word “Yet” come from – How do we come to terms with what may or may not happen? We make lists, we make plans, and then we have to abandon ourselves somewhat, to resign ourselves, to do what we can, and then to give ourselves over.
At the end of War and Peace Tolstoy writes really beautifully about the difference between the past, the present and the future – the cause and effect, the reams of circumstance and context that influence and are fixed in so much of what happens to us – of what we do – and how the past seems predictable or understandable, whereas the future seems unknowable.
But more on that later. (Probably.)
Prediction 2: There will be a North American mutual work agreement between the United States and Canada by 2020. Mexico will likely be excluded because U.S.A-Canada are jerks like that.