5/13/2012

The People We Used To Be

Joan Didion, on keeping a notebook, writes, "It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one's self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not."

A blog is a great deal like a diary, or can be, and over time, even when we aren't writing personal pieces, we leave a trail of bread crumbs that betray our inner nature to careful, consistent readers, and if we choose to go back and read our old pieces, ourselves as well. Many times we will be taken by surprise by something we have written, especially the more we write.

When we are new writers, each word is a gem, precious and precise, and held with jealous care. A teacher's red marks tears us to shreds and we are outraged that our brilliance has been missed, passed over, or completely bashed. When we are older writers, so many thousands of words behind us, a river of words and ideas left behind in our wake like rose petals that fall lazily spent from the bloom, we shrug and move on, having learned that our words, no matter how carefully tended, are not really us, but things we shed and leave behind.

They are parts of who we were, but they are not us.

Some obsessions remain constant over time, old friends and nemeses, and sometimes both at the same time, and we have little recourse but to shake our heads in wonderment and puzzlement that we are still so taken, so absorbed, so focused on the same little square of territory. Really, we say to ourselves, aren't we too old for this shit? Isn't it enough already? But we know, having grown comfortable in the skin that is ours whether we wish it so or not, that it simply will never be enough.

Other obsessions burn themselves out quickly and leave us exhausted, even when we look back and read those words. Why did I ever care, we ask ourselves, but have no answer. And when we see others who continue to tread the same waters that we shared for a brief time, we shake our heads sadly at them to see that same absorption, the same words, the same thoughts, the same battles, nothing changed.

We are all Don Quixotes, though, tilting at our own windmills, and sometimes those windmills change mid-tilt, leaving us curiously lost--looking back at the people we used to be can help us find our way again, either down the same path or on an entirely new one.

I think that we need to embrace all of the people we used to be because they made us who we are today. We should not greet them with shame or disgust. We have all been places and been people we are not proud of, but if we do not look at them with compassion and forgiveness, how can we hope to look at others with compassion and forgiveness?

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