Asheigh Young on 'Nowness'.
A man has just eaten a $120,000 banana that was duct-taped to a wall in an art gallery in Miami. The Apostrophe Protection Society has closed down. Harry Styles is rocking a beautiful gown. On the map of the UK's general election results, former mining communities that voted Labour for decades have turned blue. I've been waiting, slack-jawed, for the year to become less overwhelming but I have finally accepted that it will not. As I write this, in December 2019, thousands of fish that look exactly like 10-inch penises have washed up on a beach in Northern California.
At the risk of sounding like Trump, the present moment feels very big right now. And how can it not? All around us are precipices – political, environmental, social – even as there exist so many distractions to fragment our attention into the future and the past. Part of the overwhelm is to do with the difficulty of sifting what's really important from what's not. This overgrown Now insists on its importance – all of it! – and when I focus on it at the expense of past and future I become anxious. It's like standing on a beach, watching waves of penis fish roll in and pile up at your ankles. There is just so much of it, too much to follow the old wisdom to "live in the moment". I also think about how much of the Now we cannot yet see. It's only in the future that the present will fully reveal itself, like a camera dipping under the surface and showing us the shark who owns the fin.
Each of us has rituals to bear the Now more easily. Good ones include having a cup of tea, patting a cat, listening to music – experiences that are fully realised in the moment but that you can do again and again. These are the Nows I like best; the small ones. But also, and hear me out, one of my rituals is to study What's Hot/What's Not lists. These lists offer a map to anyone seeking a path through a tiny corner of Now – the corner of trends. At one level, I want to know what it is that makes something desirable and another thing suddenly wrong and hideous. (Although, in fashion at least, the answer is always, "We need to sell all this new stuff we made.") At another level, I want to know what defines the present moment, no matter how arbitrary. It's nice to know for sure that, for a few seconds, big weddings, ponderous soundtracks, radical candour in the workplace, and boiler suits are no longer good and should be burned to the ground and the earth upon which they stood salted.
I'm not interested in actually carrying out any of the recommendations on Hot/Not lists, and nor should you be. Bike shorts are over, but you will peel them from my cold, dead legs. And many of the Hots would confuse my friends and family. I won't be sticking googly eyes around my actual eyes this summer. I won't be applying "pops of neon". Just as a general pointer, the verb "pop" recurs frequently in these lists, so if you really want to be hot, you want something that pops. You want your eyes to pop. Your emails should pop and your meals, your politics, your children. Anything can be made to pop if you are hot enough. But listen – you don't need to do any of this. Just be aware of the popping. It's the awareness that pops.
Trends are the Nowest of the Now, brief and bright and fragile. Their coming and going reminds me that things pass and what a relief that can be. Last week I was sitting in a waiting room and I picked up a lifestyle magazine to see what trends were going on in people's houses. A married couple had their "European-style" house featured. The house was gigantic, heaving with paintings and gold fixtures and shining floors and tassels, tassels, everywhere. The trend here was to be very rich and have a very large ugly house and to stand joylessly inside it, like mosquitoes stuck in amber. Maybe this will never go out of fashion. But I like to think that one day, it too will pass – just as waves eventually carry what they bestowed on land back out to sea. And I think this is a more human way to think about the present. When we can feel it reaching into the past and ahead into the future, we can see what brought us here, what's really important, and what will move us forward. Affordable housing for everyone in 2020!
Next week: Steve Braunias