Queeries: am I running out of time?
Our Fagony Aunt shares their insights on the passage of time and how to embrace the emotions that come alongside it.
23 May 2022
Welcome to Queeries, Aisha Mirza’s advice column at gal-dem. You can follow more of Aisha’s writings and work on Substack here.
So, I’ve been struggling to navigate time… i.e my internal time feels completely out of sync with the external. Sometimes this results in a heavy feeling of ‘lost time’, leading to sadness and despair. The more I lean into my queerness, the younger I feel, but society can be so cruel in forms of structural (and emotional) exclusion. It’s a big conversation amongst us, within our little chosen families: about queer timelines, fresh starts, second puberty, new wings, forever play, taking time to mourn our oldselves. But every time I have to step out of my bubble ‘into reality’, despair can hit hard and paralyse me. Something as basic as filling out a funding application can activate that despair and demotivation. Having started my ‘career’ as an artist at 29, I felt like I already missed the ’emerging artist’ support boat. Queer time is non-linear, fluid, ever transforming, deep and wavy. Riding the waves is hard enough sometimes, on top of that, managing to be ‘on schedule’ and live up to hetero ageist expectations can really overwhelm. Help?!
Dear late blooper,
First off, your pseudonym made me lol (perhaps there’s still time for a career in comedy?) Secondly, I feel like a fucking fraud answering this question and posing like I might shed any light on it, as I am no stranger to finding myself caught in the thorny, bitter undergrowth of this feeling. Though I experience it less than I used to, I can still sometimes spend hours or days immersed in a heavy nostalgic whirlwind of grief, jealousy, anger – fixating on things I should have done, could have done under different circumstances, might have been… It’s a morose, hideous and painful place to be and if the rest of this column is useless, please know, at least, that you’re not alone!
I feel like I should open with some musings deconstructing the meaning of time against a capitalist backdrop. About how a global system ravaged by greed, exploitation and the pursuit of profit, regardless of the consequences, has left the Earth’s human inhabitants with little choice but to feel immense pressure to succeed within a very specific timeframe and by any means possible. About how the margin of what is considered success in so many places is uncomfortably skinny and sticky and wrong. About how in a world that centred care, curiosity, play and nurturance over productivity, amassing wealth and ego, we’d all be able to breathe so much easier. But you know all that – I know all that – and it doesn’t change the fact that these notions of time and achievement have been internalised by all of us to some extent, amplifying the despair that you so beautifully and honestly articulate in your question.
This feeling of ‘lost time’ that you describe goes beyond contemporary understandings of neo-liberal success though and I want to be careful not to reduce what you’re feeling as being solely tied to post-capitalist productivity. As people of colonised nations, we have literally ‘lost’ so much time: to war, sickness, poverty, migration, assimilation, domination, decolonisation, survival. D’you ever think this feeling of intense grief you’re carrying doesn’t entirely belong to you? That it’s ancestral and cumulative and spiritual? Maybe there’s solace in that.
The sad thing is, this experience of being late and/or a blooper can often be reinforced by our own caregivers from such a young age, especially for those of us with proximity to immigration and the intense pressure and expectations that can come with that – to represent a nation, to prove bigots wrong, to make the absolute most of hard-won privileges, to make shmoney, to definitely not get a tattoo of an iguana riding a motorbike wearing a t-shirt that says ACAB, to not fuck up or around. It’s suffocating for real, and it’s how we learn to speak to ourselves and coach ourselves through life.
“Go where the love and the respect for talent, spirit and personhood is”
I can’t speak to queer/trans time better than you already have… the melding and molding and movement against the grain that is inherent in queerness. The bittersweet chrysalis of experiencing birth and death as multiple, continual, everlasting. It sounds as though you’ve already found the people who will travel this path with you and who are able to hold and validate you outside of the world’s tired expectations. Thank god! Stick with them, turn towards the imperfect, lifegiving fire of queer freak community and away from gender, sexuality or age limitations and gestural, empty clout-chasing. If you are ineligible or undesired for whatever reason by whatever organisation, funding body, art thingy you’re trying to appease, take it as a sign that you’re being protected from something that was not meant for you. Go where the love and the respect for talent, spirit and personhood is. Where time moves around you and a day spent watching reality tv is never wasted. The rest will follow.
My own gorgeous ageing process has brought me the knowledge that there is absolutely no correlation between perceived success and actual happiness. For me, that’s cool to remember. It’s also helpful to acknowledge that each person’s reality varies wildly – the baby queers of today are coming up and out into a completely different landscape of information, example and opportunity that you did, and it’s ok to feel kinda sad about that sometimes! Nice too though, to remember that that growth wouldn’t have been possible without the slow, deep, trudging journey that so many older queers had to move through. Cut yourself some slack basically.
Something that has helped me deal with these feelings when they come up is to try to kind of welcome them, rather than feeling like a bad anti-capitalist and low-key hating myself until they dissolve away. You can use the feeling to check in with yourself, turn towards them, investigate them, ask them what you need that you’re not getting, where they’d like you to go next. Strong feelings can always be channelled, always remodelled or reframed as information and momentum. It’s not easy and not always desired (sometimes it just is what it is), but it can take the sting out of painful emotions sometimes to approach them with curiosity. Other ways you could do this is by experimenting with practices of gratitude and grounding such as body scan meditations, which can be used to help remember what your body has carried you through so far in life, rather than seeing yourself as lacking.
“Mourning yourself while you’re still here, while an important queer rite of passage, can also become a bit of a trap”
I spent too much of my twenties feeling like a late blooper and I was actually young then! Part of my motivation to honour, but move away from, that feeling is a realisation that when and if I’m in my forties and fifties, I’ll probably look back at myself now and feel the same way. That if I had had the tools to spend that time doing the things I wanted to do, I could have probably, like, done them. Mourning yourself while you’re still here, while an important queer rite of passage, can also become a bit of a trap. As an antidote to that feeling, spending time with elders and babies and people for whom time moves differently can feel like resistance. I also enjoy reading stories, often in the form of Twitter threads, about people who do things they always wanted to, later in life – top surgery in their sixties, degree at 70, learnt how to swim at 80. Sci-fi is also great. Time travel FTW. In Urdu, Hindi and Bengali, kal (कल / کل) means both yesterday and tomorrow. We were never meant to move in straight lines.
Lean into the things that make you happy. Moments of contentment are the truest antidote to all this noise imo. Having something that makes sense across arbitrary markers of time to come home to. And remembering from one late blooper to another, that it’s not that you haven’t been moving, it’s just that you move in ways that are true to you, unseen and unfathomable by this world. And that’s okay.
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