Don’t Wait For “Next Time”


Rain in Los Angeles is affecting. When the clouds come in, there are no $12 juices, no leggings like skin, there’s no feeling of summer to justify afternoon sins. The rain washes streets caked with old seeds from trees that never feel frost. It washes out spider webs and petals and leaves from plants that were already dead. And of course talking about rain in LA is lyrical and whimsical, because it feels like a movie set, like breathing in someone else’s air. Farm girls remember lightning and old men remember soaked boots. And the children too young for memories find themselves imitating the movies, their fight scenes come to life with the gravity that sunshine can’t lend. We’re all somewhere else when it rains. We’re all indoors in our heads.

But the rain is rare and mostly time stands still here. Months in LA are useless. There’s no back to school feeling, no coming of Christmas, no feeling of renewal, no first day of sundresses, no change of the leaves, no first winter frost, it’s just palm trees and windbreakers and the only passage of time is how much older you look than the girls in the line for the bar. It’s very easy to accomplish nothing when it feels like time doesn’t pass. And when time isn’t precious, you take it for granted and failures of character are assuaged by saying, “I’ll do better next time.”

But next time never comes. It exists in the same sphere as, “I’m never drinking again” and “we’re just having fun.” It’s a displacement of disappointment, an admission of guilt laced with a get-out-of-jail free card. I’ll do better next time in a city that never ages lets you off scot-free. I’ll do better next time speaks not of ambition and not of hope, but of a current complacency that doing nothing for now is fine. I’ll do better next time is bullshit because next time’s right now and we’re not doing shit.

I’ll be more social, and I’ll call my grandmother, and I’ll finally write something new. But then I’ve spent hours doing nothing avoiding what might feel like failure if it doesn’t go well. For time standing still it’s a remarkable thing how different you can feel from who you were. What happened to the girl at the party so eager to meet her potential? So excited for “come what will”? Did I get tired or did I get old? It feels like no time’s passed at all. It feels like spinning, but in control. No forward momentum, no glowing horizon, just the beach, the sun, that’s all.

But if anything was concurable without some enigmatic summon from the horizon, surely it was calling my grandmother. Days prior she had moved from Ohio, where she had spent the entirety of her 87 years, to a new apartment in Arizona. A small woman, Sicilian, bored of life and looking forward to Heaven.

“Hey, Grandma.”

“What’s wrong, doll?”

“I’m worried I made a crappy decision.”

“Well, there will come a time when the choices you make have to be practical, but you’re too young to think the life you imagined for yourself can’t be yours. If you made a decision you’re not happy with, do something to fix it.”

That night it rained in LA and I stayed up all night listening. The sound was so foreign, it was almost frightening. I fell asleep to nightmares but the ghouls in my dreams weren’t successful and in the morning, the sun hit the wet pavement like it was hitting snow, reflecting and blinding. The city was hosed down, cleaning out the stale air of summer. It was warm and sunny and beautiful, but it felt like fall and suddenly I felt time pass. I felt younger, like feeling time actually gave me time.

I could keep waiting until the timing felt right. I could keep waiting to write and keep waiting to apply and keep waiting to say how I felt. That’s the comfort with doing better next time, you get to do nothing until next time shows up. Sometimes we’re lazy and sometimes we’re scared and sometimes uncertainty obstructs the path. The bad and misguided decisions setting us on a free-fall until the next opportunity comes, assuming that we’ll do better next time because this time can’t be fixed. And maybe it can’t. But waiting for a similar situation to come along, waiting for the exact play-by-play so you can enact your “better this time” is both a waste of time and waste of mind. The time spent plotting how to be better in the future could have been spent being better right now.

When you’re young, and I still am so I know this to be true, it feels like decisions are absolute, like they’re irrevocable and you’ll never know what might have happened if you’d taken the other path…but this is nonsense. Decisions may be this or that, but they’re part of a strategy, part of a game plan, and when one fails, you just edit the next to get back on course. A road may cross a river only once, but you can take whichever roads you need to cross the river again.

I made a decision that was foolish and I made another decision that was sad, but the game plan is still clear, the objective still in sight, and though I am on this path, I can hack my way through the woods ‘til I find the path I want. Maybe it will be harder. Maybe it will take longer. Or maybe, as unplanned adventures are wont to be, it will be a blast. I’m not waiting ‘til next time to do better, because I’m going to start doing better right now.