Life always changes, and you always have the choice to change with it. An old photo can take you back to what feels like a previous lifetime, and show you how your current life compares.
“You have many lifetimes in this one lifetime, Marc. Don’t get stuck on that identity.”
I’ve always loved these words from Rupaul’s 2014 appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.* They capture the ever changing nature of life, and the choice that we can all make to change with it. This is one of life’s greatest gifts. Change is ever constant. Reinvention is real.
Rupaul’s words came to mind the other day, when I chanced upon an ancient, faded Polaroid. I found this forgotten photograph while rooting through a box of old papers. Just to glimpse this photo immediately brought back vivid memories of just one specific moment within this one lifetime.
The photograph is a black and white Polaroid of Palace Pier, Brighton, taken by my friend Kassie when she was visiting from the US 22 years ago this month. As Kassie’s inscription shows, she took this picture on Saturday 24 July 1999.
Given that it’s a Polaroid, I can’t believe the picture has survived so well. From a certain point of view, the picture could be said to have been taken a lifetime ago. What was running through or preying on the minds of the people in that picture at that exact moment?
How life has changed since then. Pictures can change, too. How this photo has evolved (or degraded, depending on your point of view) over time gives it the illusion that it could be depicting a still earlier lifetime. Wikipedia informs me that Palace Pier was opened in 1899, which means that it must have been celebrating its centennial year when this picture was taken in 1999. I love how the gradual fading over time has left it looking like a photograph from the early 20th Century, perhaps when the pier was still young?
One moment, two truths.
Chancing on Kassie’s Polaroid reminded me that I had taken my own picture of the pier that same sweltering Saturday. My picture feels more firmly rooted in 1999. One moment, two truths.
I was still young when I took that picture. Blessed or cursed with an overactive memory, it only took a glance at that photograph to recall that day as if I was back in it. How uncomfortably hot it was as we sat in deckchairs on Brighton beach. But all the same, it felt like the best of times. I can remember also the times around that time, the lifetime I was going through. It was within a year of my first moving to London. How exciting yet how uncomfortable life felt. I felt confused, overworked and perpetually worried in a job in the City of London. The offer of that job had given me the chance to move to London that I had been seeking for years. Looking back, it is as clear as day that it was just not the job for me. I was never happy there. But this truth was anything but clear to me at the time. I was desperate to cling on to the job that I thought was my one and only foothold on life in London.
That particular lifetime came to a crashing halt within a few months of that day in Brighton. I was made redundant from that job at the dawn of the new millennium. It felt wrenching, shocking at the time. In retrospect, it was by far the best thing that could have happened to me. That particular lifetime had to end so that I could find my way on to a new path entirely.
The path I started on that day has lead me to today. By coincidence, I met the woman who is today my wife within a day or two of losing that job in the City of London in early 2000. I am so happy to be where I am now. That was the path I had needed to find all along.
Each day has the potential to be a whole new lifetime in this one lifetime, or to herald the start of one. Life is always changing, always refreshing and renewing itself. By coincidence, on the same day that I rediscovered Kassie’s 1999 Polaroid (Friday 23 July 2021), my good friend Andy Spence tweeted some lovely pictures of both piers from his native Brighton as they appeared to him in that moment.
Kassie’s photograph captured a moment that is now historic. Andy’s pictures capture a moment that one day will be. In Andy’s pictures, the crowds are starting to build again in Brighton in July 2021, the Friday after the UK’s so-called “Freedom Day” (Monday 19 July 2021), when the UK populace was encouraged to behave as if the pandemic was over.
Each of the tiny people that we can see in Andy’s photographs is living through one vivid moment in their life. They might be nervous, they might be exultant, they might be a weird mix of both. A new lifetime within their lifetime might just be getting underway. Some of them might be just about to meet the significant other who will transform their life. Some of them might just be happy that it is Friday.
Many lifetimes in this one lifetime
Let us return to RuPaul’s words. I love RuPaul’s suggestion on that WTF episode that taking a fresh perspective on one’s own life (through whatever means – it doesn’t have to be drag, of course) reveals that we all of us have “many lifetimes in this one lifetime”:
“Once you hit that Google Earth button and get some perspective, you go ‘Ah – there it is! That’s it right there.’ You cut that out and say ‘What do I like?’ First: I’m not that little boy on the porch. And second, I was never that little boy on the porch. What rocks your boat? If you’re not that, then what are you? […] You have many lifetimes in this one lifetime, Marc. Don’t get stuck on that identity. That’s why when I started doing drag, and why it’s such an important idea, the idea of drag, is that you’re not the things it says you are on your driver’s licence. You’re way more. You are God in drag. Do you understand how grand that is? How many things you could do? It’s outrageous. It’s unlimited.”
Happiness comes from without. Joy comes from within. Joy radiates out from people. But you have to allow it do so, says RuPaul:
“You have to ask yourself, do I really want joy? […] Your fear of looking stupid is holding you back. […] Everything has to start from you.”
I love these words. Do you really want joy? If you do, there’s no reason why it can’t start from you.
Many lifetimes in this one lifetime.
* You can listen to RuPaul’s WTF appearance via YouTube.