Monday, September 18, 2017

relating in retrospect

As a teacher and mom, I know I'm expected to remind people that nothing is impossible. If I were a motivational speaker or Oprah or an abnormally perky optimist like I'm pretty sure Reese Witherspoon is, I'd point out how the word even says I'M POSSIBLE! I want to punch myself for just typing that.

The thing is though, some stuff is impossible and I think it's important that we face it in order to properly deal with it. I'm not talking about complicated tasks that seem despairingly unlikely - eradicating hunger, exacting world peace, having a million dollars to do with as I please, living in a pineapple under the sea, meeting/marrying Michael Fassbender...I mean something like time travel. Specifically, being able to return to my own teen world and help myself make different choices. This is impossible not only because no one that I know of has perfected a time machine yet, but mainly because what teenage person would ever listen to a grown-up's advice, even if she claimed to have come from the future?

I've found myself in a strange place lately [hello again, middle age, you fucking creeper]. I'm trying to go about my business, aging and contemplating my purpose and letting go of my children as they become adults, but I keep stumbling across these thoughts & memories that make me question what I even know about myself. And if I don't know myself, how do I help guide other people with any credibility? I believe myself to be content with how my life has been but then I fall into a pit of What If and start to retrace my steps - they usually go back to my foolish freshman year of college when I squandered 99% of my opportunities to be a better person (the 1% is miraculously not burning bridges with some classmates whom I still consider good friends and they seem to feel the same). So I try to get inside my own 18-year-old mind but memories are unreliably altered by age & perspective, and reading those loopy-cursive journal entries is so embarrassing; I cannot connect Now Me to Then Me other than generically recalling the events. Everything she wrote seems silly and shallow - I know that's because I'm looking at it through the eyes of a 49-year-old old person, but when I try to imagine asking her to think deeper, to understand why she's doing what she did, I'm at a loss. Why am I unable to relate to my own younger self? I remember feeling so mature, so capable of accomplishing whatever I wanted (though I can tell I had no idea what I really wanted...why??), so almost-sure of myself (disappointment with my hair is a lifelong theme); at the same time I also know I was far more insecure than I let on even in my private writings. I start to feel sad for Then Me and that's when I wonder about the time travel thing - if I could go back, what could I tell her that might inspire her? Would I just drop in as Future Me a la Kyle Reese (with a different end purpose, of course) or simply pose as a naturally occurring adult on campus whose wisdom is somehow welcomed? But then, I didn't listen to my smart best friend/roommate nor my cute Michael J. Fox-lookalike grad student advisor when they tried telling me how to not fuck up, so why pay attention to the righteous old weird mom-lady? And, I ultimately don't want her to drastically change her life because I am happy with how my life has turned out - if Then Me didn't flunk out and spend a year away from university, I probably wouldn't have met my man and had my kids and felt so strongly about helping other teens find their way.

So, what do I really want from this exercise?

I wish Then Me had made more meaningful connections with people, including herself; I wish she would realize how smart & funny & capable she really was - not based on what others told her but because she shut up the loud mean voices in her head and listened to the quieter gentle ones that matter most; I wish she could get comfortable sooner with her body and treat it kindly, with respect; I wish she liked herself more then, because it's been nice for the past handful of years, finally.

There is a paradox here - the past doesn't define me, but it does shape me. I am here only because of where I've been, yet I lament how I spent my time there. Maybe that all makes the now even better though...

Have I just accomplished the impossible?