Little Children

I keep seeing this new meme (or something) about giving advice to one’s younger self.  Five years ago, I thought this was a cute idea, but now, something about it strikes me as presumptuous, and… self-patronizing?  I didn’t know what it was, exactly, until a few days ago, I had occasion to meet with a European teenage girl who goes to boarding school in the suburbs near where I live.  She had long straight brown hair, happy eyes, and, though she was finishing up a day doing activities with her theater group and marching for women’s rights, was full of optimistic (but not annoying!) energy.  And then I realized why the whole conceit annoyed me: this girl couldn’t learn anything from me.  Even if she could (i.e. “High school sucks for everyone!”) she probably shouldn’t.  Youthful spirit is something that is taken from us, not something we shed like a cocoon.  This is just a theory, though.  And it’s a pretty pessimistic way to put it, at that.  For a realistic but sweeter version of same, see Meghan Daum, from her essay “Not What It Used To Be”:

“A little game I like to play is to look back on various critical junctures in my life and imagine what advice my older self might dispense to my younger self.  The way I picture it, my younger self will be going about her business and my older self will suddenly appear out of nowhere, like a goon sent in to settle a debt.  I always imagine my older self grabbing my younger self by the collar or even shoving her in some manner.  At first, Younger Self is frightened and irritated (Older Self speaks harshly to her) but a feeling of calm quickly sets in over the encounter.  Young Self sits there rapt, as though receiving the wisdom of Yoda or of some musician she idolizes, such as Joni Mitchell.  But Older Self is no Yoda.  Older Self is stern and sharp.  Older Self has adopted the emphatic, no-nonsense speaking style of formidable women with whom she worked in countless New York City offices before deciding she never again wanted to work anywhere but her own home (a place where, over the years, she has lost a certain amount of people skills and has been known to begin a conversation as though slamming a cleaver into a side of raw beef.)  Older Self begins her sentences with ‘Listen’ and ‘Look.’  She says, ‘Listen what you’re into right now isn’t working for you.’  She says, ‘Look, do yourself a favor and get out of this whole situation.  Leave this college.  Forget about this boy you’re sleeping with but not actually dating.  Stop pretending you did the reading for your Chaucer seminar when you didn’t and never will.’

“To which Younger Self will ask, ‘Okay, then what should I do?’ And of course Older Self has no answer, because Older Self did not leave the college, did not drop the boy, did not stop pretending to have read Chaucer.  And the cumulative effect of all those failures (or missed opportunities, blown chances, fuckups, whatever) is sitting right here, administering a tongue-lashing to her younger self (which is to say herself) about actions or inactions that were never going to be anything other than what they were.  And at that point the blob of unfortunate yet inevitable life choices, at which point I stop the little game and nudge my mind back into real time and try to think about other things, such as what I might have for dinner that night or what might happen when I die.”

 

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