How to Live Twice

“Tell Eimear what you did today.” There begins a slow review of the morning’s events interrupted by anything that distracts him (which is everything). There is Lala nose-diving off the chair, a quick play with new the train set, a run to the window to see if any birds are pecking at the fat-ball they tied to the rowan tree earlier. Eventually, if I am patient, the morning is replayed in full, it is lived twice as he tells me about going to the swimming pool, then to Umberto’s afterwards for chips with bolognaise sauce followed by vanilla ice-cream (he’s a good eater this two and a half year old), then a walk to the harbour where, yes, he saw the purple car, threw stones in the harbour, examined a new pile of creels, and searched the water for the seal (it was not there today). Then scooted around the football fields on the way home, splashed some puddles, chased the seagulls, and waved to Peter in his red car on the way up the drive. You might call this an early schooling in the art of conversation; you might call it language development as he repeats new words learned that day (Umberto’s is a new one on me) but mostly I call it learning how to live twice as the child re-absorbs daily experiences and wraps himself up in the good feelings from that day before it closes in and another begins.

I had not grasped how fundamental the simple technique of living twice is to us all until a few days ago when I was reminded by friend as we talked on the phone. One of those quiet days between Christmas and New Year, her children were out, and we were batting our limited news back and forth. She told me was re-living Christmas in her mind, going over what they’d done as a family, that she was taking down Christmas cards and re-reading them, letting the season sink into her soul before it slipped away with all its goodness forgotten. She didn’t say this, but to me she was programming the good feeling into her body, far better, more cheaply, and more effectively than any multi-vitamin could do. It reminded me of a quote from Natalie Goldberg, a celebrated creative writing teacher who says: “As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it.” I used to like this quote (despite the cud bit being mildly disgusting) and I still do, to a degree, but I now think it’s kind of arrogant of Goldberg to start her sentence with “As writers…” as though no-one else has the presence of mind to sit down and time travel backwards to re-live their experiences, either by telling others or by just thinking them through. ‘What did you get up to at the weekend?’ What else is that question doing other than giving you the opportunity to live twice?

Meanwhile, back on the phone call my friend told me about plans to have been away on two consecutive weekends, one to Waterford and then to Belfast. Waterford was wonderful, she said, so much so that that was still bathing in it, and she ducked out of the trip north as she was still absorbing the goodness of all that had happened the weekend before. I get it: that sense of over-stimulation, of being sated with too many experiences in the same was as we become sated with food at this time of year, and you can’t live twice when there is too much going on, when things are frenetic you can barely be in the present moment to live it once. In the same way one stops tasting things when one over-eats, we stop feeling and seeing and experiencing the small markers of the day when we do too much, take on too much. Writers get a chance to live twice? Maybe they do, but maybe their lives are as choc-filled as everyone else’s and they too are rushing from one thing to the next. For some, today is the day the tree comes down along with the holly and the lights and the Christmas cards, if you re-read them, you’ll live twice.

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