Four thousand weeks is roughly seventy-seven human years, a fact I learned from Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals. My maternal grandmother, my mother’s twin sister, and my youngest uncle only lived about 2,600 weeks. If I wrote a similar book, it might boast a title like Two Thousand Weeks: Time Management for the Morbid or This Short Life and What To Do With It or—to borrow from Emilie Wapnick—How To Be
Everything Only The Things You Care About Most.
If you find death discussions off-putting, please excuse me. I’m fascinated by the great unknown and all of its accompanying rituals and responsibilities—so much so that when I first stepped into my mother-in-law’s garage full of generational, material, memories, I wondered aloud, “Who’s gonna get rid of all this stuff when you die?” She heard me (oops!) and admitted that she had never really thought about it. A couple years later, she told me a service had been arranged so I wouldn’t have to find a resting place for my husband’s preschool toys, which are currently still locked in a box inside her garage.
I don’t want to pretend that I’ve gotten this whole death thing figured out. Of course, I don’t. It’s for this reason that I’m most curious and open to chat about it.
When I reflect on the brevity of so many family members’ lives, I also contemplate what this means for my own mortality as a multipotentialite. If I live as long as my Grand Aunt Mag (92 years), that means I have about 2,340 more weeks to go. That would be enough time to check off all the projects on my multipod to-do-list, given continued good health and prosperity.
However, if I go the way of my aunt and uncle, then I only have 156 weeks to go before I’m human “toast” (if cremated) or human soil (if I’m replanted as a biodegradable tree pod).
Let me be clear, I want to live as many lives as possible, in this one life I have to live. I drink all the green juices, practice all the yoga poses that don’t require suspending gravity, biohack, meditate, visit doctors preemptively, consume lots and lots of water, and get my fair share of fresh air and sunshine when my city’s lockdown measures permit. But, if three years—or only 156 more weeks—are all that’s in the cards for me, it’s probably time to prioritize my interests.
If I only have 156 weeks to go, I’ve decided for sure that I’m never answering another email. I’m abandoning all bookkeeping tasks—I don’t believe there is an internal revenue/tax authority heaven. (I would NOT advise following me along this route, and I’m certain your accountant wouldn’t either.) I also won’t be moving back to the United States, from where I now live in Europe. So sorry, Mom!
If I only have 156 weeks to go, I would like to spend them staging grand vacations with my children and their children. I want to be remembered as the esoteric grandma who played hide and seek in the Atlas Mountains or dipped tiny grandchildren’s toes in the river near Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). I should probably add swimming lessons to my to-do-list. With emails out of the way, I think I could manage.
I’m two years into shooting a project about my Uncle David who lived about 2,120 weeks. It will likely take me another eight months to produce the remaining photographs, and an additional nine months to bring the photobook to publication. That’s 68 weeks, or 40 percent of the remainder of my hypothetically shortened life. I shouldn’t start a new photobook project if I’m not likely to see it through. I don’t want my family to feel like they have to tie up any loose ends on my behalf. They should fully live their own weeks, doing the things that are most meaningful to them.
In my limited time, I would have more and better sex. And not be too shy about role playing, since it’s the only realistic way I’d get to see all of my multipotentialite careers through. I’m not suggesting I’d turn to licentiousness. Rather, with the fleeting time I have in my body, I’d want to experience all it has to offer me and my partner.
I’d write old-fashioned love notes to everyone who has held meaning for me during my time on earth. And I’d invite them to stupidly lavish soirees themed after the multipotentialite public figures I admire most. A Harlem Renaissance costume party where they would attend as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, or Bessie Smith. Or a Stacey Abrams get-out-to-vote fundraising party, to help bring the people of the state of Georgia a new governor.
I never quite got the grasp I wanted on the mechanics of socialism versus capitalism, or any of the hybrid models in between. It feels like there are important lessons to glean there—lessons I should impart, somehow, to the next generation. Since my youngest child enjoys debate, maybe we could start a book club for just the two of us. We’d spend our nights shouting about the pros and cons of various economic systems. He could reminisce about our arguments with his own future children, and those future children could actually do something about income and resource inequalities.
I find it weird that I’m on the fence about social media. Should I delete my accounts? Or share my remaining weeks with the people of the Internet, a smart phone hovering overhead?
Only about 20 percent of the population dies completely by surprise according to Dr. BJ Miller, co-author of A Beginner’s Guide to The End. Most multipotentialites will leave this earth with some inclination that the end is nigh. Whether or not you have advanced warning of your expiration date, consider exploring the idea that you might have less time than you think. Doing so helped me tune into what my priorities really are, and realign my time to honor those values. This exercise could bring you closer to what’s most meaningful to you. If you’ve been putting your big ideas on the back burner, contemplating the reality of impermanence could lead you one step closer to your most authentic dreams.
Approach this article interactively. If you feel safe participating, and are in a stable space mentally and emotionally, try this inquiry for yourself. What would you prioritize in your brief multipotentialite life? Let me know in the comments.