As Time Goes By

Here’s looking at you, kid–and all the other things we’re nostalgic about that we haven’t witnessed.

It’s 2014. 2007 was seven years ago, what the f—that’s still so weird to me. I can imagine that this might also be the case for a lot of people—especially those who are older.

However, I am also inclined to feel like perhaps this kind of nostalgia-shock is even more prevalent in younger people because it’s still so new to feel this old. Does that make sense? In a few years I’ll get used to looking back at 2009 and being like yeah, that was ages ago but for now, this kind of feeling freaks me out. It’s one thing to be nostalgic about 1995 but 2007 is something else. I was going to save this post for #throwbackthursdays or something but let’s face it: I don’t have the patience.

This is the first year since I was 10 that I haven’t kept a journal. I thought that it would be harder to accomplish (or to not accomplish?) because well, what would I do with my spare time? More pressingly, what would I do with all those photos and cinema tickets?

With the free time, there turns out to be a lot more things to do: like write, read, watch films, go out, work out, work, experiment with make up, think up different recipes for things, spend time with people, hear stories, tell stories, go get some coffee. As for the stuff—I’m definitely not “free” enough to thrown any of that shit away so it’s been living in my drawers. Instax photos, movie tickets, colorful scotchtape. I don’t think it’s bad to keep these things and I guess I’ll eventually get around to putting them in some order: whatever that is.

My conviction not to keep a journal this year stemmed from the desire to live life and look back incidentally as opposed to trying to foresee the process of looking back (which leaves you mentally cross-eyed) and creating an experience for myself via notes and reminders and captioned photos. For now, I’m kind of done leaving my future self tidbits to find. She can go figure that out for herself. All graffiti is some kind of letter, anyway.

A few years ago, in 2011, in an attempt to leave a particular person alone—my goodness, you have no idea how difficult that can be; it’s like being five and being told not to pick a scab ‘cause it’ll scar but it’s there, so you do and it does—I wrote a bunch of letters detailing the things I wanted to say, then. And I thought hey, I’ll give these to him when we’re on better terms.

Well, that didn’t happen. And to a certain extent, I’m okay with that. Life is unpredictable: you think things will go one way or another but the truth is that no matter what kind of analysis we put ourselves through, it’s impossible to have all the cards—there are always things that catch you off-guard, there is always randomness (luck, chance, that tiny margin for surprise): that thing that doesn’t open itself up for your consideration.

I still have those letters, sitting in pink envelopes in a box on one of the shelves in my room along with other notebooks full of things I can’t remember properly anymore. Life takes you away— time flies but that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be, I think. I don’t want to live life documenting it. Or at least, not just documenting it. I want to be there.

I suppose this is an odd subject for a blog entry: after all, isn’t that what we’re doing?

Yes, but only incidentally. In the future, we might look back and see how we dressed, what we did and laugh at it but what matters is that at the time, we were really into it: we weren’t doing these things just so our future selves would have something to laugh at. We wrote because we felt a certain way or we took photos of ourselves because we really liked what we looked like that day. We write to express, to inform, to tell stories. (In retrospect, maybe this becomes even more relevant in the blog setting because like journal-keeping, this also has potential for a kind of pre-emptive nostalgia.)

My dilemma continued up until recently, with regard to those letters: I didn’t know what to do with them. I am extremely averse to throwing these kinds of things out because isn’t growing as a person a matter of integrating the new into the old? Isn’t real growth a kind of alteration of who you were and not “reinventing” yourself into someone else?

I have an ex-boyfriend who I feel went through this “make over” process—in fact, he was quite obsessed with it even when we were together—and every time he and I are put in the same event or party, I feel like I can see the version of him that I dated for two years crouching within his buff, “confident” shell, kind of peeking out through the eyes and pulling a lever so that the outer shell moves an arm to say hi: like that tiny alien in M.I.B. controlling a bigger body. It feels like this “new” self and “old” self are completely disparate.

Although this might be unfair to say (who knows, maybe he has integrated this with himself), I suppose I am just averse to that “hey, look at me now” way of expression; people don’t leave or you don’t hurt people because of the way you portrayed yourself or because of how you looked: these things happen because of you are (or were at the time).

With regard to personal development, the only kind of metaphor or model I can identify with is the onion theory which says that people grow like (you guessed it) onions: with the thickest, toughest layers near the inside—formed when you were younger—and the other layers on the outside. These outermost layers are thinner and surround the innermost layers and multiply over time.

You don’t grow out of yourself, you grow around yourself. Alterations are made over the things which are. You can only change based on what is already there—you can’t inhabit someone new. But also these alterations also change who you are: they change how you look, how you act, and the choices you make.

These outer layers make the difference between young onions and grown ones.

Initially, this is what kept me holding onto these letters: a kind of penance. This is who you were, this is still a part of who you are. And this is true. Those weaknesses are still here: I just know how to deal with them better. So even if I look different, do different things, act different some days I get the feeling that if I were to see this person again, I would still need those letters to be able to say what I had to say: mostly sorry, partly I hope you’re happy. I would still need to deal with the now irrelevant sediments of sentiment, no matter how long a time it will have been, if/when.

But also, do I need the letters to remember how I felt and what I had to say? Do I really need these pieces of paper sitting on a shelf, taking up space and coming around to haunt me every so often? I doubt it. It’s already on the inner fold: the thing so much of me is built around—if you trust something to remain, you can let it go.

The thing is I really think it could change the world

One of the things that makes me the saddest is that I don’t think a lot of people like to read (anymore? that is, if they liked to read in the first place). I don’t mean to come off like a condescending grandmother, but it seems inevitable that that’s how people seem to take the suggestion to read: like you’re telling them to do something obsolete (like wear a cloth sanitary napkin or drive a horse carriage).

I read this Einstein quote at Handuraw Pizza the other day (there was a huge poster) and it said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” And it’s true. The way it’s been framed is extremely cheesy, but it is true. This is not to say that I don’t think knowledge is important–it is extremely important but I feel like knowledge is the result of imagination. We only know things via our ability to question what we’ve been taught and to be able to acknowledge that you aren’t the only person whose life matters. JK Rowling said it, John Green said, Oscar Wilde probably said something about it: imagination is empathy.

And I really think that it can change the world (yes, LOTR is also the closest thing to organized religion that I have/believe in but maybe that also helps my point): for instance, I “sprained” my back yesterday from carrying my laptop around; I was in a huge amount of discomfort but I still had to face the commute home. It was standing by the time I got onto the bus and the sideways rocking motion was making it difficult for me to balance because of the said injury. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, though so I just leaned against one of the chairs and closed my eyes. Then some guy stood up and looked at me and sort of nodded at his seat and said “Umupo ka na.” Aren’t doing nice things like that always an exercise in reading (reading people, in this case I guess: being able to tell when someone needs a seat)? I don’t mean to say people should be completely empathetic (no such thing–complete empathy would just mean you were that person) but that we should pay attention. And if there’s one thing that reading teaches you to do, it’s that. 🙂

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