When I was young, I used to lie in bed at night, thinking “I’m alive. I’m alive. I’m alive.” I would repeat it, not to prove myself anything of the contrary; it was more of a behaviour better suited for grounding myself in the current time and place. This mantra of sorts, “I’m alive”, meant nothing at first, but as I continued to repeat it, each internal utterance was a little earthquake, the shocks of which jolted me back into a reality. Most days – most moments – I found myself not necessarily living my life, but instead watching it unfold as a movie does, each scene with me as the main character yet well enough removed that I could go through this life, almost numb, portraying the understudy who watches instead of acts. This little routine – private, isolated, personal – reminded me to breathe, to live, to act, to make things happen instead of watching them happen. That this was reality – that this was MY life and MY reality – and unlike the very vivid dreams I was having, I couldn’t wake up and find myself anywhere but here. It was simply the subtle reminder to wake up when I wasn’t ever sleeping.
Every now and again I remember this, and repeat the habit. “I’m alive” when I’m staring at the computer. “I’m alive” when I sit at the bar, waiting a perpetually late friend. “I’m alive” as I start to fall asleep, “I’m alive” when I’m sitting in traffic, “I”m alive” in my delight and my regret, “I’m alive” when I wake up to you.
How easy it still is to go about my days in a sort of dreamworld, going through the motions, watching my life unfold with each little piece, each isolated scene all tied together with the mundane thread of ‘stuff’ that binds our meager existance. I’m moving on autopilot:
Walk the dog.
Go to work.
Clean the house.
There’s nothing wrong with habits, with routine – each culture, each person has their own. They’re the stuff that life is made of, only they’re the stuff that it it isn’t. They’re the things that get in the way, that prevent us from acting and doing and being.
So every now and again, amidst the shuffle of another day nearly done, at the beginning or the middle or the end of the routine I try to evoke a little earthquake to remind me of my participation in this daily cinema that I call my life, to usher me up from the stand-in role to the star, knowing my time and my place on the stage is determined solely by myself.
*This article was originally published on January 30, 2006. Damn. I’m old.