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novelty by Vincent H. '23

the closest thing to time travel

i am in the tenth week of my summer job and i can remember how the first three weeks each felt blissfully long, as if i’d found a way to cheat time, and how everything since then has melted into an indistinguishable blob. this is a familiar experience, the feeling of days blending together and passing faster and faster, like sand in an hourglass falling, a light trickle growing into a noisy downpour. i remember high school summer camps, every semester of college, group houses in new mexico and alaska, always following the same pattern – a glimpse of immortality followed by a reminder of death. this is the mirage of novelty, and it has a simple explanation:

one of the more popular theories of memory asserts that healthy brains do not really “lose” or “forget” memories, and that forgetfulness has more to do with an inability to retrieve information than a problem with how that information was stored. when many memories are similar to each other without anything to distinguish individual ones, each one interferes destructively with the others, so that an attempt to recall any one memory results in a confused recollection of the entire group. this is why you remember the first few times you try something much better than the rest of the times, and it is also why mnemonics are effective – they take similar pieces of information which would normally interfere with each others’ retrieval, and give each one a unique identifier

the days are long, sam altman said, but the decades are short. he is right, of course. i can already feel that this decade will be short short short, much shorter than the previous one, unless i pull as hard as i can to stretch it out. in his post, sam wrote:

Do new things often. This seems to be really important. Not only does doing new things seem to slow down the perception of time, increase happiness, and keep life interesting, but it seems to prevent people from calcifying in the ways that they think. Aim to do something big, new, and risky every year in your personal and professional life.

older people keep telling me that youth is a blur, that years 22 to 28 will pass in the blink of an eye, and so on. thank you for presuming how my life will go and for giving me unactionable advice, i think to myself, but i know they mean no harm. i believe their words are more reflective than predictive, that when someone declares your time will pass quickly what it really means is that their time passed quickly, that i can do a better job of slowing down time than they did, and i fully intend to try

recently i was reading a blog post about aging and love and i came across the following paragraph:

Lately, though, I’ve searched for that feeling — the feeling that a great and grand adventure still awaits — and it eludes me. I’m already on a moving train. This is the great and grand adventure. The pieces of my life have, more or less, fallen into place. Despite my resistance, I can see the imperfect plan — one that surprises and moves me — if I squint steadfastly at the horizon.

and it’s beautifully written but it also makes me want to scream at the author – why aren’t you switching trains? how can you just accept that the pieces of your life have fallen into place? do you realize you are choosing to accelerate the passing of time? i am in a headspace where i cannot fathom why anyone would ever willingly settle down, where i cannot understand why anyone would, say, start a family or root themselves in a community if they had the option to sprout wings and soar through the world. why work the same job in the same city for twenty years when there are so many roles to try and places to absorb?

perhaps i am being selfish. i often hear arguments of the form you Should have a kid to do your part in continuing the human species or you are Supposed To plant yourself in communities you care about to better support them. clearly i haven’t been listening very attentively, but i do understand the concern they are raising

perhaps i am still just a child, addicted to the feeling of being alive, unable to stop myself from reaching for more. maybe more mature adults discover a different feeling to subsist on, one that is more responsible and less impulsive. whatever that feeling might be, i have not encountered it yet, and i wonder if i ever will

perhaps this is all in vain, some kind of foolish monument to my ego that i will regret later. i remember someone telling me that most people have a core desire which guides most of their actions, such as wealth or love or power or comfort. over the years i’ve become more and more certain that my core desire within this framework is knowledge, both of myself and of the world, and maybe that explains why i have been so restless. but sometimes this desire feels empty – i have not yet reconciled with the fact that everything i ever learn i will eventually also forget

i am in pursuit of novelty, of a way to separate the moments from each other, of a way to make the decades feel longer than the days. but there is something i have never been able to understand: how much of that pursuit comes from a genuine desire to explore the world? and how much of it comes from a desire to escape my current self?