Learning From My Younger Self

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Can I say what I need to say? Is it okay to say this?

I ache. Not deeply, but it’s there; like a campfire that I’m sitting a bit too close to. It’s starting to sear my knees, so I cover my knees with my hands, the coolness a brief relief- until it’s the tops of my hands that start to burn.

I savor the ache. It means something. It means I can still want, I can still write, create, yearn. It’s an ache for my past self, my wild self who I didn’t know well enough to control, who was not yet fully formed, who was still cracked open enough to allow for such a range of possibility that to acknowledge it made me dizzy.

Yet as I biked home from work today, a little drunk and speeding through the fresh cool air, blood pumping and sweat drying and my old plaid flannel shirt flapping I thought, she’s still here, she’s still in me. That kid, that 18 year old, still hungry for experience and movement and passion and life. She’s still me.

But why do I idolize her so much? Surely I’m better now, stronger, more caring, smarter, with a certain beauty from cheekbones and laugh lines and stretch marks, glimmerings of silver at my temples. Oh but that girl- she teetered at the precipice and I’ll never again know that feeling. The certainty that life was a treasure map and I had everything I needed to get to that big X and start digging. A time when desire consumed me entirely; I was just a walking want and there was no reason why I should not pursue my every impulse.

I guess I miss feeling desires, acknowledging them, pursuing them. I’ve almost all but forgotten how to want something and go after it. I miss that selfish kid, that wild girl burning with a fire that wouldn’t stop until she had consumed the whole town.

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I’ve been reading old journals again. I can’t help myself. I’m surprised how many times I can go back to them, how they are still magnetic, throbbing with life and meaning.

It’s an escape. It’s a time portal to the time in my life when I felt the most free, the most alive, the most juicy and anguished and curious and open to magic. Sometimes I look at the warped, torn, frantic, messy pages of a journal from 2004 and wonder what it would be like to pop in on that 22 year old girl in a coffee shop and say, “Hey- it’s me. I mean, it’s you, 13 years from now. I’m 35 and I’m married and have a three year old daughter and live in Portland and well, just keep writing, okay? Because this time is more important than you realize. And don’t worry about all the flings and your heart that is constantly drawn and quartered because it’s not going to last. You’re only a year away from meeting the boy you will marry so relax. Forgive yourself. Be wild, sink into it. Take notes. Cherish your friends. Ride your bike at night, gaze at the river, go to jazz night and drink your whiskey and cokes. Don’t try so hard to find love and just revel in passion.”

Reading these journals, some of the entries flow so perfectly, it’s almost impossibly cosmic the way life fit together in a chaotically poetic way at that time, people flowing in and out of the scene, entering the room as I’m writing about them- so many interruptions and experiences happening lightning fast there was no way to keep the journal up to date. But it’s there, incomplete, and just a few notes is enough to expand it 3-D in my head and heart. I feel everything when I read it.

I think I knew who I was early on in my life, not too many years of searching and doubt- so when I read back on old journals the setting is different, the day to day life has changed, but it’s the same person writing, noticing, feeling, wanting. When I read about life in 2004 it’s almost like a parallel life. It doesn’t feel far away even though it’s impossible to get to.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past,” Benny said when I was talking to him about this stuff. I agreed but I also had to point out, “I think my past self has something to teach me. It seems like a conversation. Like the past is still alive somehow, time isn’t linear.”

All my selves, past, present, and future- exist simultaneously and if I concentrate hard enough, I can access any or all of them.

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I had a moment today, suddenly as I was driving: it was a thought of how I’ve been idolizing my younger self so much lately and that’s fine I guess, but I realized just how much my present self has that my younger self didn’t. I have a self-assurance now that’s actually based on experience and not cocky ignorance. I’ve made so many mistakes that I never have to make again if I choose not to. I don’t have to just blunder my way through, day to day. I’m a grown-ass woman and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’m at a position where I could actually give someone wise, thoughtful advice if asked. I understand gratification and I understand sacrifice. I understand selfishness and compassion. The world seems bigger now- infinite. My ego is dwindling. I think I could one day be one of those older people whose eyes glow with brilliance and kindness; who have a knowing that’s come with an acceptance of not knowing. I don’t want to lose my wildness but for a moment I was fully grateful for all the years I’ve accumulated and how they’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. For a moment I felt like, if someone showed up in a time machine and offered me a ride back to my 20’s, I would just wave them off.

As we get older we have these choices, every day we have them- what parts of ourselves to keep, and what to let go. I think I’ve been reading my old journals as kind of a cumulative review- taking inventory. I like my old self but there’s a lot about her I’m not proud of, that I’m eager to discard; and I’m also clearing out some space for parts of myself I’m still working on, that I want to see get bigger. I’m realizing more and more that although I am a product of my upbringing, my environment, my culture- my life didn’t happen to me. I chose it, and every day I choose it. This is the adventure I decided on. Sure, I may miss that feeling of groping in the darkness, of careening off into the unknown, but making choices and committing to the path you’ve chosen is the real work.

5 thoughts on “Learning From My Younger Self”

  1. A glimpse behind the curtain of being my daughter, I can read your thoughts as if they are those of a person who didn’t use my back as a mattress. You’re an interesting woman.

  2. There’s so much depth to your thinking Serra…I’m so impressed with the person you are today & your ability to to organize & express your thoughts. KEEP WRITING. Love, Grandma O

  3. Oh wow I really really relate to this. Thank you for sharing. I love your positivity on growing older… a younger self will never be lost

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