Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Maybe we are getting this lifeline thing wrong

Maybe writing should not be so easy. A few dashes on the keyboard, a click of the keypad and instant publishing. Maybe writing should reflect the hard work of thinking and translating that complex inner landscape into a form that everyone can understand. Each word should shine like a diamond in an engagement ring, each phrase as perfectly formed and iridescent as a soap bubble. (I am writing like a thesaurus enthusiast right now, but I assure you I am thesaurus free. I must be unconsciously imitating some stream-of-consciousness author now in my word-drunk, thought-seeped state.)

Lately today I've been wondering about the conflict between our biological and our intellectual imperative. As a biological, evolutionary (or created, depending on your beliefs, I think that they are both true) being, I recognize that I don't have very many years on this planet and I am driven by my body to accomplish certain things: mate, raise children, age and die. So morose, but it is true! I am 20 years old. My body runs well, but from here on everything declines: organ function, sensory apparatus, coordination, memory, brain function, speed, parts of the body that beauty is measured by gradually decreases as cells die and don't regenerate, as hormones decrease, as bone density shrinks. For the rest of my life I will have to reconcile with the fact that I am no longer 20.

And all this knowledge (put into perspective by an excellent holiday-reading book titled "The thing about life is that one day you'll be dead" by David Shields) makes me react with wonderstruck panic: I need to get some living done! Why should I be sitting and studying and enriching my mind when I am at my physical peak of life? Can't sitting and studying and philosophic meditations be done when I'm 60?"

I realize then, how our current way of life in the more-developed parts of the world is so conflicted with our biological timeline. We spend ages 5-24 (for me, due to Malaysia's late-starting and long education system of which material I have retained little) studying up to a degree level, start working, maybe get married at 28-30 (don't want to jeopardize your career, need to get downpayment on house/car/etc) if you find the right person who has roughly the same life goals as you do. Childbirth after age 35 greatly increases the chance of birth defects. For most of history women had their first child by age 20. The anthropologist Suzanne Frayser found from studying 454 traditional cultures that the average age for brides was 12 to 15, and for grooms 18. Growing up I always found this fact (early marriage) terrifying and was so glad I lived in the modern enlightened age of equality. Now, I wonder if this is a lie. I wonder if by prolonging years through medicine and better healthcare and quality of life, by postponing the inevitable; I am just wasting more of my naturally-healthy years preparing for the rituals of adulthood and survival and find out later that either a) it didn't require all that much effort or b) that it wasn't worth it.

So what would I do if I chose to abandon my intellectual-fulfillment, career-ladder goals and seek happiness and a good life through biological means? I would start living a more balanced life, cook my own meals, run and exercise a lot, start looking for a mate to have children (10 more years till 30!), travel. Worry less about saving the world or solving our problems and be more focused on fulfilling evolutionary criteria. Immerse myself in small household tasks like cleaning. Get a cat. Drink and party more (not to the point of destruction, of course) since my liver still has amazing capabilities. Only old people tell you to be cautious, ever notice that? Keep staying in North America by any means, where making a living just seems so much easier. The middle-class enjoy a standard of living comparable to the upper-middle class at home, and with more security. Spend a lot more time with friends (while doing sports of course) - we can sit around and drink tea when we're 40 and have bad backs.

Things I would not worry/spend so much time laboring over: whether I will get a good job. World problems. Exams. Facebook. Wondering if I am intelligent. Trying to be intelligent. (I can be intelligent when I'm old. Old age=wisdom. Wisdom at young age = too much time sitting around on butt)

You may notice I am fusing traditional ways of living with the modern world to make a melange of what I consider the perfect young life. My earlier years should be about making experiences and making friends, my later years about reminiscing about said experiences with said friends. And enjoying this God-given body and capabilities, not overtaxing the mind at the expense of the body. Eating badly, sleeping spottily, not exercising enough, too much sitting around without enough action - that is the condition of college students. Where is the spirit of revolution, the passion that burns stronger than the urge to get wasted on a Saturday night, the joy of discovery and falling in love with ideas and people and ideas of people?

"Fight, fight, against the dying of the light..." but if noonday sun does not shine with life, what else is there to fight for at sunset?