Talking with Yourself across Timelines
When I was young I’d sometimes wish I would get a visit from my future self. Obviously this was a yearning for some reassurance that things would work out and I wasn’t always going to be the mess I thought I was. I hoped he’d arrive, reveal himself not to be mumbling or unable to make eye contact, and then offer such pronouncements as “You will not always be this shy. You will get to write for a living. The rope climbing thing in gym is never going to happen but the fallout from that will be negligible, unless your parents crash in the jungle and you’re raised by apes or just vines.” Maybe I also thought my future self would give me valuable investment tips.
“Listen…Hello? Get out of your head and listen for a moment…You—wait, what is that you’re building with Legos, a spaceship or a condominium with booster rockets?—anyway, invest in Apple…Yes, yes, the stripey fruit logo company. Now, I know you think Atari will always be the end-all-be-all…No, I don’t want to play Combat right now…No, because you figured out how to cheat by making the tank suddenly appear on the other side of the screen and WILL YOU JUST LISTEN!…Invest in Apple. Sure, there will be a time in the 90s—no, no flying cars then either—when you’ll think I’ve given you the absolute worst advice ever. But just stick with it and…What?…Yes, there will be more Star Wars films…Some will be better. Well, one will be better. Then there will be a really, really dark period before they get good again. The point is, in life you are always going to hit a rough patch. And sometimes that patch will feel more like a sinkhole. But you will always get out of it and be better for it…No, I don’t know why Atari made a Basic Math video game either.”
But other times I would imagine that I was my future self and life so far had been a trial run to let me iron out the kinks or get a chance to avoid doing such things as stand right behind the goalie in street hockey or frantically squeeze my handbrakes while riding my bike down a 70 degree incline, both incidents resulting in a thick veil of blood over my eyes. Naturally, wishing it was all a trial run was purely a manifestation of my second-guessing and self doubt. And it created the rather significant temporal quandary of if I was my own “Future Self” then when exactly was my “Present Self” living, if at all? Did I exist the day before? Was I still in utero? Or perhaps some sperm was watching all this on video and thinking, “Um, perhaps it’s best I just lag behind.”
In a clear way both future versions were a way of avoiding living in–and coping with–the present. And that’s what can occur when you spend a good deal of your day residing deep within your own head. (After all, the constant meta commentary and fourth-wall breaking in Sally Forth doesn’t come from a cognitive process like “Man, I am currently enjoying the hell out of this peach.”) Sure, being alone with your thoughts is great for writing. But shutting off your surroundings to focus on those thoughts cuts off much of the inspiration you need to write in the first place. That’s why nowadays I try to practice “Heightened Awareness,” which is another way of saying sometimes when I walk I narrate to myself what I’m seeing. The result is something that is always both very internal and very external, which is rather contradictory but at least I believe is a half-step in the right direction.
In other words, I’m now trying to live actively in the here and now, if only because I really don’t want a visit from my 90-year-old self.
“Listen…Hey! Listen! Stop telling yourself how many stop signs you’re seeing and listen. In the future invest in Doan’s Back Ache Pills. In fact, buy all the Doan’s you can get your hands on. Just know that everyone will think you’re making geriatric meth.”