One of the more amusing side effects of getting older is that when I remember myself at certain ages — or just stumble across material evidence of all those people I used to be — I’m less and less likely to recognize them, and quite a bit less likely to be mortified by the strangeness of their ideas and the foolishness of their outfits.
When I was 15 I tried to write a play called The Conference of the Selves, about a young woman who had tried to kill herself. But her soul got pulled into some purgatorial board room with the souls of herself at various ages, with a mediator who would help her try to integrate them all into one whole identity. If the selves all came to some sort of agreement, this girl would get her life back. See.
I was thinking about it recently and for the first time since I had the good sense to be abandon it (that is, about three pages in to the actual writing), I was more impressed by than annoyed with the brain that would think of something like that.
Sure, it’s silly and solipsistic, but here in the silly, solipsistic 21st century, people imagine conversations with their younger selves all the time.
I just walked past a car with a bumper sticker that said, “The next time you think you’re perfect, try walking on water.” Which brought up the memory of passing angry notes in second grade with my best friend after a fight. “Nobody’s perfect,” I wrote. I have no clue now what action I was defending.
“Well, some people are,” Sara countered..
I wrote, “Not even God!” which totally shut her up.
Later, I told someone else about this conversation, someone whose religious education was a little more coherent than mine, and I was rapidly informed that I was wrong. It turns out that not only was God perfect, that was sort of the entire point of God, really, if you thought about it.
The thing is that it’s rarely occurred to me that I’d even want to walk on water, except perhaps on particularly wet days when I’m wearing nice shoes.
Of course, I also don’t think I’m perfect. In fact, per the instructions I’ve been given since birth, I take a little time every evening to catalog the day’s failings and then to chide myself for being far too insecure.
So at the risk of giving my childhood self too much credit when she was really just trying to win a fight (though hey, props for the bitchiness, too), I’m impressed than an eight-year-old had, I think, some notion of life being far too messy for perfection to even be a meaningful concept, really.
At 30, I’m so set in my agnosticism that colloquial talk about God is a little off-putting to me, particularly when it’s eight-year-old me doing it. But then, I sometimes revert to a suspicion that someone is in charge of the whole shebang after all, and that he ought to have been kept out away from the liquor cabinet. I mean, he isn’t sleeping it off for weeks on end, he’s out crashing his car into things and prank-calling evangelical preachers to tell them the world is ending a couple of weekends from now.
If God exists, he’s the exact sort of person I would have dated a few times two years ago, then ended the relationship with a shouting match wherein we each accuse the other of being needy. While she lived in the same house I live in now and knew a lot of the same people, I’m as alienated from my 28-year-old self as I am from the person I was at four. Both were to some degree impaired, one by blinding grief, excessive drinking and an imploded sense of entitlement, the other by a short-lived but deeply-felt desire to one day own a horse.
The assumption driving my play and other hypotheticals like it is that when two versions of the same person sit in the same room together, some sort of wisdom will be imparted. I see no reason this has to be the case. My 15-year-old self thought her three-year-old self might have something to teach her, but my three-year-old self thought your clothes grew with you.
I see no reason I shouldn’t inform three-year-old Christen that actually your stuffed animals DO come alive when you fall asleep at night, but they never talk about anything interesting (“mostly taxes and stuff”).
My 16-year-old self was pretty highly strung and paranoid and it makes a lot of sense to me that I should have just told her that it’s not that everyone finds her boring or annoying like she imagines, just that she is literally invisible to everyone but her parents and a few teachers, and should test this theory by driving naked to school one day.
Like most twentysomethings, I made as many good choices as bad ones (and failed myself in some situations by not choosing at all). Clearly the best I could do my past self is to tell her to do everything just slightly and arbitrarily differently. “Don’t sleep with that guy. He’s a douche. Sleep with THAT one, for he is a slightly different kind of douche and will fuck you up in a slightly different way. This crummy job will take aaway a completely different piece of your soul than that one. Give it a shot, then quit with no notice. Also, wear less flattering clothes and dye your hair a color that really, really doesn’t suit you.
“I’m thinking black.”