Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Forward to the past

Sometimes I think about how to get out of the predicament of my present career situation, and I usually I come to believe the best solution involves time travel. Granted, I have not developed a means of manipulating space-time (nor do I have any notion of "space-time" other than hearing it mentioned in science fiction shows), and were it such that the aforementioned career circumstances allowed me the wherewithal to even attempt such a venture, then those circumstances would not really require time travel to improve. Nonetheless, I've more or less concluded that only by going back in time and convincing my younger self to choose more prudently when it came to learning practical skills that would be more marketable later could my present situation hold much chance of improving.

Sure, the obvious use of time travel would be to go back and have my younger self make some strategic wagers on the outcomes of sporting events, but I've seen enough episodes of The Twilight Zone to know the moralistic consequence of manipulating the past merely to gain material wealth. I'm not stupid—unmotivated, certainly, but not stupid.

Everyone has the same reaction. First they think that solution preposterous and delusional, then they feel compelled to offer the pithy but worthlessly vague advice: "If you want to change, make it happen."

To avoid the uncomfortable stares I have stopped trying to explain how that's not what I want. (Something I learned early on, and something I would not need to advise my younger self: Just tell people what they want to hear. No one really gives a crap about figuring out someone else's situation; others merely want to think that everyone else is exactly like they are, and anything else they may be told merely sends them into an unavoidable tizzy.) What they do not grasp is the flaw in the assumption in their argument: that I want to change; what I want is to have changed in the past so I don't have to change now.

There's only so many days in any lifetime, and when one's 20-year reunion is in one's rear view mirror, one has already spent the primo days where one should have changed, the days where one's circumstances are less established and easier to change. One doesn't know shit, but that's what makes it so easy during that time: one has not experienced the futility of the changes about which one was excited but which turned out disappointing. By the time one can look back on that many days, one has squandered them if one is inclined to look back and see them as squandered. It's too late. The time to act has passed, but only by realizing that the time has passed does one realize it was the time to act; only by a visit from a traveler from the future can one instead act while the time to act is still available.

To confirm what you're now thinking: Yes, it's not entirely unlike the Back to the Future movies.

The conventional logic that gets beaten into us is that, when one comes to the realization of the squandered days, one should enact changes for one's future. Oh, how blithely naïve. One has a long pattern of behavior developed by that point; the only thing that causes significant alterations in the way one conducts one's days at that point is the imposition of outside circumstances: winning the lottery, get laid off, having a serious medical emergency, becoming friends with Tom Cruise, etc. Left to one's own devices, one can attempt the annual New Year's resolution over and over, but the best one can hope to do is tweak the existing pattern a bit.

You think that fatalistic because of the efficacy of the brainwashing—er, conditioning you've received, you lucky sods. I'm not sure how I missed out on that—perhaps that's what happens when one attends a public university—but I cannot help but lament that I don't get to maintain that blind optimism like the rest of you when I am unable to suppress the thoughts of where things went awry for me professionally. It would be freakin' sweet to think there's hope, it really would.

Perhaps what I need is to travel back in time and ensure I get the brainwashing. That makes the most sense. Even if I could meet up with my younger self, how would my younger self not think he (I) was completely losing it, much less convince him (me) of what changes he (I) should implement while the time was still opportune for such things?

And I've seen enough episodes of The Outer Limits to know that the way this meeting with my former self would happen. Another time-traveling version of me from my future would come back to the point where I interacted with my former self and advise us both (present me and past me) that past me shouldn't listen to present me, because the advice proved to be more harmful than helpful further into the days past the squandered days, and he (future me) came back to prevent the mistake I didn't make until I (present me) went back. At which point past me would probably have a premature heart attack and kill us all.

So, I suppose my present circumstances aren't necessarily that bad.

I mean, those circumstances did lead me to the woman I love. And I didn't even have to get advice from the future for that. (At least, not that I'm aware of.)

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