“How to stop time”

Honesty is a motherfucker.
– How to Stop time, Matt Haig

I’ve been doing a lot more reading recently.  James Smythe’s “The Machine” has proven to be a gripping read and I am still reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s well written (but not really my-type-of-thing) “The signature of all things”.

My quest for stories is taking me to new places. There are various reasons for reading: edification, illumination, perhaps escapism, a possibility to lead different lives.  I look for universal and sublimes stories that do not push or endorse any partivcular agenda, but focus, rather, in human experience. I love classics for their depth and scope and I like any story that feels sincere. Frankly, I hate cynicism and cunning and artifices and pretensions. I see too much of that around me, perhaps all guided by a fear of some sort. I like to believe in gentleness, innocence and a certain heartfelt naivete which offers simple, small kindnesses without asking for anything back. Coming from such a place means that for me any story is worthwhile if it is well-intentioned and genuine but it must also resonate with me in some way.  I have found that to be the case with Matt Haig’s “How to Stop time”.

“How to Stop Time” is a sincere, introspective story about fear.  The story centres around a man who does not age much but moves through time (like Highlander) meeting with superstitious fear and condemnation along the way – because of his condition, seemingly neverending youth. He has loved and lost, he has seen his loved ones suffer in circumstances for which he blames himself. He lives, or rather just exists, most of his life, moving between various eras, in fear.

He teams up with an obnoxious antagonist who promises Tom, our protagonist an illusory protection if he fulfills certain conditions. That man – Heindrich is controlling fear itself. The conditions are, among others – 8 years in one place, no lasting bonds. Then start over. It may seem like a tempting offer, aren’t there times that starting all over again seems like a good idea? I certainly have had such moments.  How nice it would be to escape where no one knows me and start again.  New identity, a new blank page to be written, perhaps in a better way than the last. But isn’t that  fear, and not really a way to live? That fear, if I keep it up, will eventually prevent me from living my life. In fact I do often feel paralysed like that.

Fear is really in the focus in the story.  Fear is what drives the protagonist in his decisions. Fear is what he is met with, fear is what breeds hatred. The story focuses on the man’s feelings, it’s the man’s coming to terms with what’s happening to him, accepting, not accepting, yearning for love but being afraid to reach out for it again. It works as a gentle love story of loss and gain.  The book seems to be the author’s break from a battle with depression and anxiety. It feels therapeutic and it is heart-warming. The protagonist voices many observations about how things changed but not all of them. How the world has become more confined, how a sense of space has been changed due to technology and how relationships, too, may have been affected.  How being kind and honest sometimes works but can really be a …motherfucker.  How fear is rather quick to take roots and hard to let go and how that fear is an impediment to living. Being tied down by the past, worrying about the future…where is time for living among all that?

A wave can kill you. Or you can ride it. It’s sometimes more dangerous to shy away.

Tom moves through many eras, witnesses history, meets great writers and important figures, makes his own observations about them and concludes that while there are big differences between now and then, some things don’t change much.

The treatment of the context and the (fun) conceit takes second place and is, to me, quite light, giving more weight to the book’s focus on the feelings – Tom has a lot of his inner world to show, how he experiences, how he thinks; it is  Tom’s battle with his demons and a contemplation of his own sense of self through time as well as a quest for  closeness and love (despite the fear) and for relief from the constant anxiety.  It’s heartwarming and I feel its sincerity; in fact it is ultimately a very encouraging read.

I enjoyed the feeling of being encouraged, shown not to fear, not to overthink and not to worry about the past or the future. Just be in the moment and take it in my stride, be open to the world and people around me, and not to make decisions  or self-judgments grounded in fear. The story has made me want to continue to be open and be me, not a fearful version of me that is afraid to do or say anything out of fear of rejection or being a nuisance. Negative thinking is one’s worst enemy. Tom has learned that too, I think.

Thanks, “How to Stop Time”.

And just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. you just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. and then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: whao am I? If I could live without doubt what would i do? If i could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without the fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow?

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