December brings the end of the semester and the end of the year. Therefore, I’m usually doubled-over with reflection, neck twisting backward like an owl into the near and far past. This year has been piled high with change and my cup has runneth over about 378 times.
Brace yourself: I’m ready to not change. Not forever, but at least for a little while. Even just a couple days of sameness would be nice.
Odd that considering the past would bring me to this present point. Or not odd. I can’t tell yet. What does strike me is how the last semester has made me wonder what it means to even have a past. I suppose that means I’ve lived enough to have an experience of something called, “the Past,” but I couldn’t really say what all that is. Or was. Or what verb tense fits.
Three years ago the presence of a Past hit me when we moved across-country. But then I was more consumed by discovering how much familiarity I had lost and would need to rebuild. Those simple comforts like favorite hang-out spots, walking paths, even parking spots revealed their significance after they were gone. My brain’s security void demanded I fill it as quickly as possible with whatever substitute would come close. But like most incomplete gestalts, any puzzle piece that didn’t fit properly created more angst, not less. That first year became largely a balance between stability and chaos, with chaos winning out most of the time. The awkward Present sometimes hit like an electrical shock, and I missed my Past.
They say you know yourself through the reflections of others; if this is true, then after I moved I was no-one, a foreign shoot sprouted up overnight which others couldn’t decide to prune or weed. I had to remind myself I existed before, that my Past had occurred. But I also got caught in the trap of proving my potential, a path that usually leads to disappointment. Eventually, I quit proving and decided to just be, which alleviated some of the identity pressure but left me still unsettled.
I realize moving again sounds like the opposite of what was needed to resolve this instability. But, in this case, diving once more unto the breach became the essential injection of sanity so desperately needed to breathe. And breath has come, bringing with it the luxury of introspection. Even though this last semester threw more curve balls at me than my two arms could ever hope to juggle, I could refocus on who this person is who makes a living from standing in front of a room and talking to people.
I wanted my Past to be seen, acknowledged, valued. I am not sure why, other than perhaps I thought I wouldn’t have much else to offer. Maybe I needed them to know that I wasn’t a “rookie.” But what does it matter if I am? Would that make me more susceptible to pranks? Will my stupid words sound stupider? Do my mismatched clothes look more ridiculous?
Now that the term is over, I realize the Past clung to certain vanities, like recognition or approval. But this is not to say the Past only lingers on perceived greatness. I do have a Past, and that is somewhat unnerving to admit. It includes success and failure, joy and pain; it includes the many faces I’ve had as I regenerate from one iteration of myself to the next. My Past has already taught me that I can be liked, feared, loved, hated, admired, criticised, ostracized, welcomed, respected, honored, ignored, and remembered. I suspect the Past wanted to be noticed to remind me I am human, which means I can be hurt. Ironically, this also means my Past wanted to defend myself, and that is not always a useful thing. Sometimes the dark is just the absence of light, not a nightmare.
What, then, is the purpose of the Past? It reminds me where I’ve been and thus where I could go, but its presence is not necessary for someone to know me in the Present. My psychodynamic brothers and sisters will argue that point, but my social constructionist crew will fist-pump the air. I am as I am, composed of all the “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey goo” that is unchanging while never staying the same. Relationships not only reflect the old but reverberate towards the new.
There is a kind of freedom in allowing myself to be no-one because I can also be anyone. The yet-to-be me is a work in progress. As I write that, I chuckle, because the truth of this statement is obvious. I’ve always been a work in progress, so why stop now?
(on a side note: here’s Dylan Moran’s – a comedian who’s “work in progress” is well worth seeing – take on having a past…)