Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 21 - The past is a terrible place to live

Today, I have been ritualistically murdering my past.
That's a bit melodramatic.
I've been sorting through and disposing of the final batch of stuff from my loft in my last house (with the help of my parents).
Apart from a few files I've brought back to securely shred because they include student names, addresses, and phone numbers, I've got rid of a lot.
I've got rid of my undergraduate notes, and a lot of my teaching material because I have realised that my undergraduate notes are terrible, and I've got a lot better at teaching since I made those notes. There were a few things that I needed from both those collections, but I extracted them a couple of years ago.

The main thing that it made me think was about how we let the past consume us.
We worry about what we were supposed to have done but didn't.
We worry about the battles that we attempted but failed.
We are eaten up by guilt about people that we have let down, and tasks unachieved.
And, when you think about it, it's all totally pointless.

The past cannot be rewritten.

A few weeks ago, I found myself sat on some steps with a student who was talking about his regrets during that year, and I gave him precisely that advice. You can't change what has happened, and you are where you are now because of where you have been. Yes, you can learn from your mistakes, but you have to stop worrying about what you should have done, and start deciding what you're going to do.
Regret and guilt are only positive if they spur you on to do things differently now. You have to be able to shut the door on them and move on.

Having said that, you can't live too much in the future either. You can't be constantly planning for what is around the corner. That's no way to live (and as Charles Bernstein says in the libretto to Ferneyhough's opera Shadowtime, 'Just around the corner / Is the coroner' [If someone wants to check that for accuracy before I get to my copy of the score tomorrow morning, please be my guest!]).

It's good advice for students, and I think that it's good advice for an academic too. I don't believe in struggling through the teaching term so that I can enjoy the work that I do in the summer. I believe that it should be possible to do my teaching, marking, and support in a more efficient manner that allows me to continue working on research throughout the year.

We have to live in the now.
The past is a terrible place to live.
The future hasn't had toilets installed yet.

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