You know Back to the Future, right? In the sequel, where Marty McFly has to go into the future and save his future son from ruining his life? I was watching that movie the other night and I had an epiphany. (Sort of like the one that Doc Brown must have had when he smacked his head on the toilet and invented the time machine, except that I wasn’t on the toilet and try as I might, I still haven’t figured out that flux capacitor business).
Epiphanies are usually centered around brilliant ideas—the light bulb, indoor plumbing—but sometimes, they are of a more startling discovery. This morning, whilst poring over an “eat local” map, I had just such an epiphany: my younger self would totally call my present self a douche. I can imagine how it would all go down, too:
Me of the Present: Ooh! Hybrids! Sunscreen! Yoga! Health Foods! Early Bed times!
Young Me: Douche.
(At this point, Young Me would likely wander off smelling somewhat of patchouli to not shower and maybe eat a waffle and sleep off last night’s all-nighter cheeseburger pizza bender).
The more I began to think of Young Me, the more I began to feel restless, as if I could attain all of my goals if only there was a Delorian to ferry me into the past and allow me to re-write the future. It’s not that the present is bad. It’s just that I had this terrible case of the what-ifs. If you’ve never been afflicted by the what ifs, they are a little bit like if mosquitos and piranhas mated and woke up on the wrong side of the bed.
What if I’d written more in university? What if I’d stayed on only one career path? What if I’d just said no to that last cheeseburger pizza? (Would my ass still fit into the pants of Me past?) What if…what if…what if…
The what ifs were so bad that they whined in my ear all night until finally, I got up and began to watch a documentary on raccoons, because, you know, documentaries on raccoons are kind of boring. And then something sort of awesome happened.
Even though it was past two in the morning my non-night owl husband came downstairs and we spent the night talking and laughing—it was instant magic. (It kind of always is). Just like that, the What Ifs were zapped away in one big electric charge of Good Times. (Good Times always trump What Ifs).
It was then that I realized something about Young Me: she doesn’t know shit. After all, would you listen to your teenage self if she/he told you to wear Winnie the pooh overalls?
I’m hoping you answered no on that one.
I’m betting it’s not just writers that are hard on themselves. Sure, we’ve got the whole starving artist-solitary-haunted by unfinished drafts thing going for us, but everyone’s got a few…issues. So here’s the thing. As I sit here in my thoroughly yuppie neighborhood Starbucks, I’ve decided to let team old me win this round. I forgive myself for not fighting THE MAN as hard as I used to. I mean, hey. THE MAN does kind of pay for our house and stuff…so he can’t be that bad…can he?
Here is what I’ve decided to do:
Be in the moment. Take care of your present self in defense of your future self, because regardless of what may have been, we only really have the present to live in. After all, if I had the chance to re-write my life, what awesome things (and people) would be missing? After all, let’s not forget what Doc Brown says about meddling with the time space continuum: “Great Scott! You could destroy the entire universe!”
Have you ever had a case of the What Ifs? If so, how do you get rid of them? Also: if you had a DeLorean and could go back and tell a younger version of yourself something, what would it be?