As the more grammatically astute of my regular readers may have noticed, every now and then I like to play fast and loose with my tenses. I suppose you could blame my late twentieth century comprehensive education for this writer’s tick (outrage! They never taught us grammar!); but actually, I’m like, well satisfied with my education (who wants a school experience comprised of manicured lawns, Latin, pompous high-achieving toff class mates, and compulsory prayer? Not I). No, I like to think of the tense shifts that occur in my prose as a distinctive facet of my insightful and brilliant ‘voice’. It’s a bit like how I hold on to my SE London accent for dear life – because of the attachment I have to my home-town – even though I’m sure that flattening it to RP would be a good move, career wise (bland is the new black apparently). But it’s not just a contrived personality thing; oscillating between the simple present/past progressive in a single post allows me to express in my writing a sense of the fragility of time, plus it adds an authorial omnipotence to the words that makes me feel a bit like God. Even though I’m almost sure I’m not God, most of the time.
And though I def feel I’m getting there in terms of representing my inner life as a sequence of words on a screen, if I was (were – that’s what posh people say innit? So it must be right) really brave, my stylistic choice, tense wise, would be even more radical. The present tense, as I’m sure you’re aware from your own forays into literature, makes everything more exciting, more fresh, more vitally immediate. Thus the present tense is my absolute fave, and if it wouldn’t totes confuses my readers (that’s you, hi) I’d use it all the time. Like the Chinese.
I’ve known about the pleasure of the present in the literary sense for some time. It’s only since I decided to become a happy person however, that I’ve realised joy in the immediacy of the moment – which is the essence of the present tense in its written form – is transferable to the bits of my life that aren’t written down. That is, all of the bits I haven’t rehashed here, or theorised in the (somewhat neglected) draft notes for my thesis.
All of the above is a convoluted way of saying that one can only enjoy being single if one revels in the now. Indeed, I’m going to put my metaphorical neck on the line and say that being single might be (scrap that, too tentative) is the only time when it is actually possible to achieve genuine happiness in the moment. And happiness in the moment, as all the spiritual guides and enlightened people who have ever offered advice will tell you (if it’s spiritual advice you’re after btw, then I recommend Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now; no, seriously), is the only kind of happiness that is worthy of the name.
Consider a simple daily pleasure from the life of an average singleton: The Big Bang Theory on telly, bar of aero mint chocolate, cup of tea. You are not anxious about the future in any vague or specific way; it is as it is. There is no one who might not call, no one who might not ask you to marry him/her, no one who might forget to order plain instead of egg-fried rice when you send him out for dinner. Bliss.
Once you embark upon a relationship of course, expectations change. Choccie and TV just ain’t enough no more. They promised us milestones dammit (I specifically remember that class in R.E). Milestones where we can quantify our happiness by engaging in rituals that mark the achievement of established norms, and taking photographs. This weight of personal and cultural expectation means that in coupledom all happiness is held hostage to the future. Life becomes a Sisyphean cycle of delayed gratification, where every delight is undercut with anticipation of the joy of a future moment. First date (sex), first kiss (sex), first sex (will he ask for my number? Will she call?), engagement (wedding), pregnancy (baby’s birth), baby’s birth (okay, I’ll give you this one, but only because of the relief one must feel at the cessation of all that pain), wedding (‘marriage’ idyll). And that’s it. There’s nothing to look forward after the wedding except more babies, which is why people undertake affairs, and invent rituals where they can renew their vows.
It is no surprise to me that those in the spiritual know – monks, nuns, priests*, prophets etc – choose a life of celibacy (I’m not suggesting you go that far, casual sex and spiritual fulfilment aren’t totally incompatible). They’ve realised what it’s taken me almost (but not quite!) thirty years to discover: satisfaction is married to the present tense – happiness exists only now, and only inside you; just watch it vaporize as you tie it to the future, or attempt to suck it from the soul of some unsuspecting lover.
*let’s not get into the Catholic pedophilia thing right now. It’s a bit bleak for a post tagged ‘humour’.