There are times when I imagine a rending of the universe, like a zipper coming down in the thin sheen of reality. The fabric of space and time rips open, and out pops me: a me with more years, with more miles. He would be drenched in a coating of intertemporal vernix, because that’s what happens with time-travel. There would be lines on his face, scars on his skin, and also a time-machine, because I like to think I would have found access to that sort of technology. He would be coming back to talk to old me with news of great import, if he had bothered to travel back at all: grave danger or some sort of quest. But I also wonder at what kind of look he would give me. What kind of advice he would give me.
I wonder if he would totally hate my guts.
This emerges, primarily, from how much I hate old me. Sure, it’s common to look back on your teenage or college years with a cringe of regret and embarrassment. But while the Michael of a decade ago was much the same kind of tool as every other kind of tool his age, he took the care to leave abundant evidence.
As a teen and as a college student, I kept in-depth records of most of my writing, in academics and in fiction and in self-cataloguery. My fastidiousness has led me to keep most of these records and tidbits of the past, and thus I have a constant albatross weighing down my computer, or boxes and boxes of old essays and files, or ancient webpages brimming with clear, definite proof of what a turd I was. I can’t bring myself to delete them, being the completionist that I am, but neither can I fathom the horrors they must contain.
Granted, I never look at these things, for actual confrontation with the sheer magnitude of my teenaged douchebaggery might actually put me into a coma. But I know about them. I remember exactly the web address of my livejournal, I have memorized the plotline and character arcs of the novel I penned at 16. I know what I sounded like, what I looked like, what I listened to and thought about and valued and believed. They are windows to my personality, my view of the world, into my very soul. And that soul was angsty and obnoxious.
There are times, of course, when I like to completely divorce myself from the person I was a decade, or even a few short years ago. He was awful and had terrible interests and didn’t really know anything about anything, like all teenagers and early-early twentysomethings. (It is certainly cocky and precocious and highfalutin to be drawing such dire dividing lines now, even as I am just barely, tenderly into the murky mid-twenties, but the horror with which I hold myself as a teenager means that stark mental measures are required.)
The you of teenage years, of early semi-adulthood is basically little more than a chrysalis. A hissing, pierced, mewling and anguished chrysalis with poor taste in everything and a lot of directionless anger. Child you was playful and gooey and larval, and basically not even a person, and thus nothing really to regret. The pupate you had some actual cognitive function. The you of those filthy middle-years before the imago made the active choice, under the admittedly heady influence of hormones, to be an ass. It’s hard not to want to cast the transition here as a total change of form, rather than as movement along a continuum. It is too horrifying to think yourself just a slightly upgraded version of yourself as a teenager.
But by the same token, I come to worry about current me. The me of present is pretty awesome – at least in my own estimation. I like where I am in writing, and in my career, and in my personality. I like what I do, and what I say, and it’s basically a big, redolent ball of one part arrogance and one part self-confidence, which is just the right amount.
But teenage me also liked teenage me. Old me was also pretty confident in the overall suave-levels of old me, and years and hindsight have proven old me not have terribly trustworthy opinions. What, then, might future me think of current me?
Will he look upon me much as I like at the old versions of myself? Will he see me as immature, as self-absorbed? I still maintain a blog dedicated entirely to my own life–I literally chronicle, with every day, my deep and abiding love for the sound (or sight) of my own voice. Will he think my choices poorly-thought, impulsive, or just shoddy and wrong? Will my politics and beliefs seem childish and naïve? Will he one day look back at pictures from this era of his life and clench his teeth, squint his eyes, and wish for death or a nice, selective wave of amnesia? (Will there be technology available to provide either of those things, or both?)
Or will future me be capable of taking the high road? Of looking at present me as just part of the process, as another step in the road? Will I have even changed enough in the coming years to really have that much to regret from an earlier version barely changed by the new operating system?
I think, then, that growing up, really growing up, is accepting where you came from. Accepting the yous that you were, if not with open arms, with a calm forbearance of judgment. Looking back at what you were and giving it a calm shrug of the shoulders, knowing it to be nothing more than the building blocks, the foundation without which you wouldn’t be the you of today. It’s about knowing that you couldn’t be who you were without who you were before, because nobody just bursts out of a forehead fully formed unless you’re in a Greek myth.
I’m not there yet. I still think old me kind of blew. But here’s hoping the me of the future can be a bit more of a grown-up about it.