Since I was quite young, I've thought about aging by imagining myself saying something to my older self, offering some advice or encouragement, and, as I've gotten older, I've remembered the things I thought of saying to myself all those years ago, so the communication actually did occur: my young self sent a message to my older self. I've also contemplated the reverse: what would my older self say to me now? Imagine yourself 10, 20, 30, or more years in the future: what does that person say to you? The answer is purely imaginary. Maybe you will reach that age and realize that is not the message you would have sent at all. . . .
Ann speculated that taking the advice of your imagined older self could even have a perverse, reverse effect on the kind of actual older self you turned out to be, as you would end up with the opposite set of regrets from the ones you were trying to avoid. (I've made this murky so you'll go read her post, where an example makes it much clearer.)
I immediately thought of two things.
One is the classic science fiction theme of time travel, where you go back in time, only to realize that one false move and you'll not only change all of history, but possibly wipe out your own existence. This mind-bending Moebius strip of an idea is the theme of the "Star Trek" episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", of the films "The Terminator" and "Back to the Future", and of the wonderful Jack Finney novel Time and Again, in which the protagonist realizes that the form of time travel he has so enjoyed is about to be used for corrupt and dangerous purposes, so he . . . well, you have to read it. Another Althouse reader wondered if she was a "Star Trek" fan and mentioned that the "Next Generation" episode "Tapestry" also has this theme.
The other thing Ann's post made me think of right away was an exercise I'd done ten years ago in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It's embarrassing to admit that, in the throes of what I later recognized as "the death of youth," I actually worked my way through that book, answering lists of questions like "My favorite childhood toy was . . . " "If I didn't think it was selfish I'd . . . ", since it seemed to me even as I did it the epitome of a kind of narcissistic, caressing self-care that makes my flesh crawl. Worse yet, unable (even then) to keep my vices to myself, I got the AmbivaBro doing it. There were a couple of cool things in it, like "reading deprivation" (Richard Cohen's Tai Chi teacher would approve -- see the comments to this post), and "morning pages," a headlong, uncensored, come-what-may daily writing practice that shook loose some unexpected felicities. In retrospect, though, both of us were just killing time till blogging came along.
But there was one exercise that was like Ann's communication between older and younger selves. You were supposed to write a letter to your present self from your 80-year-old and then your 8-year-old self. And I did, and I was startled by the results. Here they are:
Dear Annie: At 48 you still had not claimed your own power and right to do what you were capable of. You were just crawling out from under. Focused on what you'd lost, you had no idea how much freedom, life, love & power still lay ahead of you. You don't realize that your life is beginning right now. You don't have children of your own, but you have a lot of nieces and nephews who want to know you & in whose lives you will be important and inspiring. [Yeesh. Hope so, guys.] Freed from the conflict between work & motherhood, you will finally stride out and do the work of which you're capable, but you'll have a lot of play, pleasure, love & travel too. A very rich, full world. My advice to you: Be sure to get enough solitude & time alone with friends. Don't think you need J to charm people or to protect you. You need to discover as quickly as possible that you can bear it all yourself. That's taking nothing away from him, just reclaiming yourself. Use your senses more, your hand your eye. Do anything that helps you undo the gate of the intellect. Draw, paint, sculpt, pot, sing, dance. Your body is your best friend. And don't think you'll never love again. All it takes is courage.
Love, A at 80
Dear Annie: Wow, you're old enough to be my mother, or even my grandmother. I will be like this forever. I will never turn into you, but I will stay alive as I am inside you. You can come back and visit me any time. You've gotten all caught up in grown-up worries and responsibilities. The purpose of all that is to protect children so we can play and be carefree and just love the world and not worry about what it could do to us or what we have to pull out of it. You don't have any children, except me. So you have to be both, the parent and the child. Don't forget to be the child, to just love the world, to go off in nature alone. Don't forget your sense of smell or your love of the changing seasons.
Love, A at 8