December 17, 2006

I told a friend the other day that I was thinking of going back to the gym. Her response? "Well, now's the time." What does that mean? That if I don't go now, it'll be too late; I'll be out of shape and unlovable for the rest of my life?

If I'd said I was thinking of having a child, there's an obvious time limit. But going to the gym? After she said it, I realised I don't really want to rejoin the gym, because I'm never in one place long enough to make it worthwhile. So now is the time to be sedentary.

When I graduated from high school, everyone said that was the time to go backpacking around Europe. Travel the world. College was about to start, which meant four years of hard work - it was a free pass to let loose and to concentrate on having fun. I didn't know what to do with myself. I took a summer job reading film scripts.

After college, it was "the time" again. Your early twenties are all about making mistakes and trying new things. It was implicit that soon it would be time to become a grown-up with a career and responsibilities, so now was the time to sample everything that was out there. The only thing I remember about my twenties is counting the seconds until they were over.

Early thirties - that was the time for dating. Not being anywhere close to getting married or having children, it was okay to go a little crazy. There was an expectation that I could date as many men as possible, because soon I would find The One and settle down. That time came and went. I had a string of bad relationships but never had the sense they were meant to be.

Late thirties was the time to make a change in my life. I thought about what else I could do and began to get very depressed. Peace Corps? Too many bugs. Greenpeace? Can't be on a boat. My skills were limited. There were loads of exciting options - but apparently it was the time to put them off.

I'd love to get to a point where now is never the time. But that doesn't seem likely to happen. Seizing the moment is a constant headache that never goes away. For instance, just as you're about to turn 40, it becomes the time to take chances - go out with younger men, get cosmetic work done, have a stupid fling.

Then in your fifties it's the time to see the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon, wear a bum bag and visit all the places you've never seen while you can still get around.

Your sixties will be the time to get all the replacement surgery in - the hip and knee - while you can recover properly and still have a few years left to reap the rewards.

The time to be hedonistic is your seventies and eighties. If I wanted to eat an entire chocolate cake at 84, I bet there would always be someone saying: "Well, now's the time." Things like cholesterol no longer matter. It's the time to eat and drink and smoke whatever you want because soon you'll be dead, so who cares?

But what I'm really looking forward to is being 90. Here's why: I can do nothing and it will be fine. There'll be no guilt, no pressure - all the moments one had to seize will be over. When I'm 90, it'll be acceptable not to accomplish anything. I'll have the same life as I have now, but nobody will mind.