Can’t Get There from Here

One of a few stories I did for back in 2010.

In my younger and more vulnerable years I spent more time reacting to everything than ever thinking about who I wanted to be, and have been paying for it ever since. I sometimes muse on that old science fiction idea that if I could travel back in time I would tell myself a few things and be much better off today. I know better now.

The years that had led to this moment were fuzzy and subject to change. It was like a montage – shifting faster than anything could actually do, making everything into what it was not, and generally filling you with unrealistic expectations. Memories made everything seem simple and obvious in hindsight, and so they were never to be trusted.

Time as a concept had always intrigued me. In my youth I’d watched a close friend die and it had started me down the long road of introspection. I remember feeling sure with all my being that not a day would pass without thinking of my friend, and sure enough it was a matter of months before that day came. But the day did come and I noticed it when it came, and the memory faded more and more after that. What had at first felt like a betrayal eventually turned into an inevitability. Time buried everything.

It was only years later that I found I had the sufficient acuity and perspective to see just how this all played into my life as it was now. I was still preoccupied with time; walking around the town I would be distant and miss countless details of the people and little events going on around me because I was trying to see it all as part of a greater timeline. I had on occasion walked into things in my reverie, and felt flush with shame when it was caught by some random bystander. The days blurred together – I saw them more as variations on a theme than as unique pockets of life; there was nothing to distinguish them.

I would go out in the morning and walk up the long stretch of road to upper Hawthorne where the shops were. I knew about how long these trips would take but it was only the scientist in me that kept track of such things nowadays. I’d stopped wearing a watch when I realized (after that feeling in your gut gets so strong that you cannot ignore it any longer) that it had become the focal point of my attention rather than a simple tool. Without it I panicked for awhile, but this also got better as time went on. I started to notice things again; trees whose names I did not know and did not care to know and people walking together happily. When I was younger it had been a very serious matter to not only notice things but preserve and record and understand them; now it was enough to notice them for a moment and then move on.

It is easy, when you are alone, to get lost in your own head. Whatever you think and truly believe becomes everything, becomes the whole world. I remember being a young man and encountering basic philosophy for the first time – the only thing anyone could think of was their own identity and where it came from and what it was now and it was all taken very seriously. The assumption was that who you were was the accumulation of all you had been before; every step contributed and every step was therefore necessary and worthy of analysis. I bought into it same as anyone.

They never taught us about the real nature of time, the real nature of memory.

The more I walked and paid attention the more it became clear that things progresses linearly, but only in a very limited sense. The path behind me existed as much as I kept it in my mind, and the paths ahead were born out of the present moment. There had been periods when I had gone crazy and tried to think of the whole thing from outside, to determine which way to go to end up somewhere specific and see the whole of my life as a timeline which I could carve out as I wished; this led to complete despair and immobility, and so I abandoned it as foolhardy and went on. Still, I felt more and more that one thing did lead to another. But how could you think you knew where you were going?

I remember an anecdote told by one of my father’s friends when I was just a boy. The details of it escape me, but what I remember clearly was the smell of their suits and the feeling that everything was somehow smaller in scope. I remember him saying how you did not have to make choices, but only live your life, because there was only so much out there and you took your lot and did what you could do with what you got. I had filed it under Adult Wisdom at the time. Thinking back on it now I can only partially fault this man for his narrow, lazy way of thinking: the world had been smaller back then. The amount of pure raw data now available was overwhelming to the point of madness. One could find statistics to support any ideology, or fear, or suspicion. The incredible overflow of information which had begun as a triumph of technological advancement had evolved into something quite different: a test of our character. With every option available, there was in turn a greater need for self-direction than ever before. Who we were had become less a matter of where we were from than where we wanted to go next. This was at once terrifying and liberating.

I felt lucky. Perspective had shown me that things were only as hard as you believed them to be and that ours was an age where you could chuck your past if you wanted to. I walked with a lightness in my step and enjoyed the smell of the air and the trees and the people whose names I would never know. The pain of letting go of whatever I had been was slow and excruciating and when it was over I looked back, puzzled that I had struggled so much at all.


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