Monday, March 22, 2010

Better Beautiful than Perfect, Anyway...

And possibly
The biggest problem we have here
On the Earth
Is that every night when the sun goes down
And stars come out
It’s the endless possibility of a dark sky
And its questions
That make us realize what we could never be
Or what we always could be

--Roddy Woomble, “Under My Breath”

Don’t ask me why I’m thinking of this.  It’s not that there’s some big secret I’m keeping, it’s just that I’m really not sure.  But it’s an interesting thought that I’ve pondered many times before, but I’m suddenly seeing it in a whole new way.

You know that question that gets asked fairly often: “Would you do __________ over if you could?”

This is generally asked of momentous occasions.  “Would you marry that person again, knowing what you know now?”  “Would you re-live college?”  “High school?”  “Life?”

I’ve been known to say yes to these questions (y’know, save the marriage one, given that it’s a moot point for me so far) on certain occasions.  Mostly because it brings up the thought that the bigger question is trying to get to: what would you do differently?  What would you do the same?

When I answer that question in the affirmative it tends to be with the caveat that I would, but only if I knew then what I know now.  I suppose that’s an implication of the question, anyway, so it’s kind of redundant.  But chances are I’d make a lot of the same mistakes I did last time if I didn’t learn the lessons from them.  This has given me a general list of things that I simply would not do the next time around.  It’s pretty consistent, too:

1.  Avoid spending my junior high and high school years as the fat kid.
2.  Actually try to get good grades in high school instead of just coasting through.
3.  That whole thing with that one girl I dated right after high school?  Nope.
4.  Apply myself in junior college.
5.  Don’t buy that 1996 Chrysler Concorde LXi.
6.  Actually save money at my Zurich Life job and don’t live off my severance package for nine months.
7.  Have way, way more fun at WIU.
8.  In an unrelated note: don’t join InterVarsity at WIU.

There are a few general things, too.  It mostly amounts to minor differences in asking girls out or ending relationships that were obviously going nowhere when I should have.  But the eight above are the big issues.

The thing is, though, that any of the changes that I made to any of those eight things would have drastically changed everything that came afterwards.  If I hadn’t been the fat, dorky kid in high school who was too afraid to talk to girls and actually gotten some dates, then chances are that my defining post-high school relationships and/or unrequited loves would have never happened.  If I had applied myself in high school I might have gotten some better scholarship offers and never gone to junior college.  If I hadn’t done the InterVarsity thing at WIU I never would have questioned my religious beliefs like I did.  And, as an aside, I never would have met one of my best friends.  So, y’know, there’s that.

Meanwhile, there are other issues.  If I’d known that a certain relationship would have been mostly painful and ultimately gone nowhere, would I really want to try it again?  See, that one’s tough.  On one level I absolutely know that the lessons I learned from it were worthwhile.  I also know that I’m just dumb enough to think, “Because of everything I learned the first time around I could totally get it right this time.”

But if I already know what I learned from that, why even bother to go to the place where I met her in the first place?  Hell, if I’d skipped out on No. 8 I never would have had to go to the place where I met the person who was the other half of my most important and most painful relationship.  If I’d followed numbers 2-6 I probably wouldn’t have been in a position to even need numbers 7 and 8.

Which leads me to an interesting conclusion.  My answer to the, “Would you do it all over again?” question is always and inevitably going to be, “No.”  Because even if I decide to go back, I’ll lead a completely different life filled with completely different decisions and have to learn new, interesting, and potentially painful lessons.  There’s no point in living my life over again as if it were a movie, since it would be a terrible movie full of bad decisions and missed opportunities on the part of the main character.

But the weird thing is this: in spite of it all, in spite of my mistakes, missteps, and missed opportunities, I like who I am.  I like where I am.  I mean, my physical location is somewhat less than ideal, but I believe that if I’m capable of being happy in Chicago I can also be happy in Dallas.  I just need a little more time, a few more friends, and the crazy transition period at work to ease off.

I have to admit that the fact of the matter is that the move has been good for me.  Because I took the Dallas job I was able to pay off all my debt -- save my student loans -- and buy a new car (thereby putting me back in to debt.  Ah, well…).  And there’s nothing that says I have to live here forever, anyway.  And I’m the first to admit that my life in Chicago was pretty stagnant, anyway.  There was a time the thought of the move actually did excite me, since I realized it would force me to admit that my life could use a few adjustments, anyway.  The hardest time to re-start your life is when you’re where you’ve always been and the world has moved past you.  It’s too easy to pretend nothing has really changed.

So thing here haven’t been exactly what I thought so far.  That’s life.  Chicago is still home to me.  Chicago is still the center of the universe as far as I’m concerned.  I suppose it will be that way for a while.  Perhaps forever.  And that’s okay.  It’s natural to want to be at home and it’s natural to think of the most familiar place as home.  And it doesn’t hurt that Chicago is, by all measures, awesome.

But I find that my desire to change things I’ve done dries up starting about four or five years ago (as to major life decisions.  There are a few minor things I would have done differently, mostly revolving around breaking off a terrible relationship that neither of us really wanted to be in well before the two year mark…).  Because, when it gets right down to it, I wouldn’t change the decision I made that brought me here.  Sure, I might bitch about it.  I might shake my head at the thought that I probably won’t be at Celtic Fest to see the Saw Doctors headline, nor will it be so easy to make it to Soundgarden’s reunion at Lollapalloza.  But the decision to move here itself was, I’m forced to admit, the correct decision when I made it and still the right decision now.

That, in turn, leads to another realization.  All of the decisions I made in the past lead me to this moment.  I like who I am at this moment.  I like where my life can potentially go moving forward from this moment.

So can I honestly say that if I had my life to live over again I would?

Honestly, I still don’t know.  Who’s to say that if I started back from zero with the lessons I’ve already learned somehow ingrained that I wouldn’t have a better life right now?  But, by the same token, who’s to say that I wouldn’t have ended up spending the last twenty-eight and three-quarters years making different choices that were all, in some way, terrible?

So I guess the lesson is this: it doesn’t matter.  Life is good right now.  I believe life is going to get better.  And the best response to that realization is to just go with it.  Tomorrow can take care of itself.  Yesterday already has.  And there’s no room for regret or second-guessing.


This, by the way, is why I’m a big fan of the LA X storyline on LOST this season.  Too often sci-fi shows/books/movies/what have you try to use alternate reality storylines as a cheap gimmick without really thinking it through.  So you end up in Star Trek or Stargate or whatever where something huge has changed, usually the Nazis won WWII or similar.  But the only thought that the writers gave to how that would change the main characters is they become their evil counterparts (except the one evil guy, who suddenly, and for reasons that can best be explained as, “He/she knows that they’re the evil one in the main universe and, therefore, have to be good for the laughs) and grow goatees.

The people in the LA X storyline this season in LOST are still, largely, the exact same people.  They react to things in much the same way, say the same things, etc.  But their lives are different.  In some cases drastically so, in some cases subtly. 

But I suppose we can expect that from J.J. Abrams.  He is, after all, the guy who re-booted Star Trek by blowing up Vulcan.  And say what you will about the laughable science of the new Star Trek, he didn’t shy away from the idea that this major change will result in other changes to the universe going forward.  And it won’t just be an issue of facial hair and comic role reversal, either…


Janet said...

Ah, but Ged, you've forgotten that Piccard did get to make one of those decisions over again, and decided that it was better to be stabbed through the heart by a Nausicaan than to live life as a peon.

Geds said...

Well, yeah. But if you get the advantage of an explicit display of Choice A takes you here, while Choice B takes you there, then you're playing a different game.

That's actually the follow-on thought, though. If you live life over, the moment you start making different choices you start changing your future from that point on. Even that episode of Star Trek made that pretty explicit, if I recall.

But, if you think about it, that's impossible in the scenario otherwise. I mean, say that I decide I want to change my religious beliefs starting after high school, but I still want to meet my friend from InterVarsity and I want to try to make things work with that girl this time around. Do I leave myself a note that says, "I know you don't like the church thing, but I want you to go to the InterVarsity meeting on this date and talk to this guy. You'll be friends. It'll be cool. Trust me. Also, go to this other place on this date and introduce yourself to a girl. Yeah, you'll know who, trust me. I don't know how it will work out, and it sucked for me, but I'm sure you'll figure it out. Go get 'em, tiger!"

Or is your point that the LA X storyline isn't the only time that sci-fi has gotten the idea of changing a single choice right? Because I'm sure there are plenty of examples, but the most common trope is, "Nazis won. Now everything's exactly the same, but we're inexplicably evil." Which is just silly.

Janet said...

Not sure that I really had a point, only that your post did bring that particular episode to mind. I couldn't say one way or another about Lost, as I am a recovering teleholic, and don't keep the stuff in the house anymore.

I do feel that if one manages to escape those brutally confusing and frustrating formative years without A. accidently dying or B. intentionally dying, and if one ultimately comes to a point where he honestly likes who he has become, then it's time to be thankful for making it this far alive, and look to the future. I, for one, would not re-live those decisions for all the manna in heaven. Those who feel nostalgic about youth have forgotten what it's like to be young.

Geds said...

I'll raise a glass to that.

Fake Al Gore said...

The only way I'd go about re-writing my history is if I controlled the ebb and flow of time. Let's say I'm a god for a moment.

I'd start all over (probably around three or four) with all of my knowledge today. (I'm a god, so the underdeveloped brain isn't really an issue here.)

Relive. Oops, I screwed something up. Rewind. Experiment by making various save states like in an emulator. Man, that would be kick ass.

Of course, none of the above is even remotely possible, so it's just fantasy. In general, I'm happy with who I have become. Sure, I'd like to change a few things, but I can address those in the present.

Janet said...

Sounds tedious. If I'm a god with dominion over the ebb and flow of time, I should be able to forsee all posible outcomes in the moment of decision. Thus there would be no need for do-overs, because I would always get it "right" the first time. The advantages of being un-stuck in time. Of course, if this is to be seen as a "choose your own adventure" kind of life, then each decision would open up a new universe of possibilities. From an omnipotent point of view, different decisions probably wouldn't hold to a good/bad duality. There could be multiple right answers, and thus many good lives to live in a single lifetime. Even then, if I spend all of eternity reliving the past, how will I ever move forward? Is it not better to greet the unseen possibilities of the future? I come up to the "God's Debris" dilhema of the omnipotent being. For the all-knowing god of creation, the only real challenge would be in destroying one's self.

Huh, word verification: destroth. I like it. Now it only needs a suitable definition.