Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Over your shoulder.

  This week I have had the opportunity to kick back, after a year of hard work obtaining the magical secrets of teachering, and sublimate myself in nothing but the soupy mass of my own consciousness. It's like an executive's toy, but even better.
  I find that there is something about me that always leads to my reassessing the past every time that I make some big change. The current big change has been moving away from my family and moving in with my girlfriend, an agreeable and lovely state of grown-upness and responsibility. I even have a job.
  But the contrast with the past makes it, I paraphrase cleverly, another country. Not just a historical USA to my UK, but a country with a totally different culture and language and society and way of living. The difference is so large that suddenly what has happened to me before dissolved into dreams, myth, and unbelievability. I imagine that if all my days were similar, or Groundhogged, that this would not happen. However, it does happen. A host of questions arise when I consider my history - how was I like that?, why was I doing that?, what was I like? I can't even comprehend who I was back then, I was so alien to my present self. If there was some desparate plot-device to come, like some artless Hollywood blockbuster, the time machine that I would construct would take me back to a 10 year old version of myself to impart some Worldy Wisdoms. Because the only thing I want to do is impress the useless utility of hindsight into my younger self and make myself understandable - to have grown up faster, to have done things better.
  Of course, one must and will argue that it is the 'mistakes that make the man' (and woman, you sexist pig). If hindsight fell into our brains from years hence, we would act without proper learning, we would be better without being better. It is the journey, not the destination, that is important. And you would be right, and I would concede your point, but it is not the point. The point is that we can look back and find our previous selves so very, totally different. We can look back to our concrete memories, composed of the memorific equivalents of camcorder footage (if only we could upload our most hilarious memories to Beadle's You've Been Remembered), and not doubt their existence or truthfulness. We can insert ourselves as observers of these memory-events, and see them again and again, while being absolute outsiders and not understanding what is happening. Our own memories of ourselves and our actions can confuse us.
  I sympathise with you if you have ever fallen into this quandary, and recoiled in fear and disgust from what you thought you were, and lamented over how you have changed and what a strange occurrence this is - perhaps even worrying whether there is a touch of psychosis or mental instability about it all. This is a confusing state of affairs, I hypothesise, because we believe very much in personal growth and progress. We are who we are, we are told, and although we can improve on ourselves, we will always be at the core the same. This is obviously not true, if we can look back and not understand ourselves. We can change, adapt, grow, progress, or whatever, in such ways that we become something quite other than what we were. We do not just continue to be us in better ways, in better or worse ways we can become otherwise to what we were, to be divided and contradictory.
  Some examples. I look back at my younger self playing the violin on stage, and wonder how I ever did it. I would never play the violin again, I feel, why was I doing it then? I remember how I could treat people during my teenage years, being contradictory and callous, surprising with sudden trapped-rat changes of disposition. Why? Is it a trait I still possess? And I also think back to how matter-of-factly I tried to talk about and deal with various traumatic experience, which now seems to be just a tactic to stop others from talking about it. It's not something I would think normal now.
  Maybe, I must conclude for my own ease of mind, this is in fact good news. Rather than confusing, disgusting, worrying, or mystifying us, our changes should be explored, catalogued, rectified, or enjoyed. If we truly have become better people, and our previous actions disturb us - this gap between us now and us then is the price of our subterranean self-progress. If the experience is the other way round, it is a timely warning to change ourselves. Take stock in all this, and try to enjoy the confusion. We truly are complex beings who are complex even and especially to ourselves. To look back in wonderment at how far we've come, even if we have done things that disturb ourselves, should only be a reaffirmation of our small, personal successes.
  Yes, there is an equal and opposite affect in that I also look back even on the good things people have said about me or things that I did, things that bolstered my confidence then, or were part of my self-worth. Now they are simple costume jewellery in the many drawers of my good intentions, meaningless because they were intended for a different person doing different things. Again, I can only conclude that this is a happy loss, for we should never allow the dressing room of our self-identity to become over-run with past accomplishments, so that we idolise ourselves. The only thing that counts is who we are, and what we do, and these are things so painfully rooted in the present that they should not be uprooted and potted for the future to keep. To reaffirm your strengths, act them out, every moment. To show your love and goodness, wear them constantly.