Vulcan’s Peak

Time goes by, everything else keeps changing…

August 24, 2008 1:32 pm

I kind of assume most people sometimes ponder over the passage of time once in a while. I remember being nine and wondering what my brothers (then toddlers) would look and sound and be like when they were my age. I remember thinking the same thing when I was fifteen. (The younger is now past that and I’m pleased to report that both are bright young men who are much taller than I am, take pride in singing bass, and are just generally a lot of fun to be around.)

When I was in middle school, one of my favorite literary heroines at one point wrote a letter from herself at age fourteen to herself at age twenty-four. I seized on this as a fantastic idea; consequently there are several such letters squirreled away at home. One I was allowed to open when I graduated from college. Another is marked for my birthday this summer, and I think there may be another for next year.

(Mind you, they’re all just sealed with stickers…which I’ve popped off more than once in the interim. Perhaps I should have hidden them from myself more thoroughly.)

Of course, the inherent problem in writing letters to your future self is that all you want to do is ask questions, but most of them are so broad that putting them on paper in no way helps you towards an answer. “Where did you go to college?” it probably says. “Where do you live? Who do you live with? What are you doing with your life?” In the end, the content is not so revealing — of those dilemmas, no reminder is necessary. Instead, I’ll sit and look at the object itself. Look at how my handwriting has evolved: Was this during the couple of years when I dotted i’s with little circles? Did I still write my capital A’s the other way? Look how the cursive has gotten smaller and more compact. And I slip back, remembering the foggy projections: What might I look like, think like at eighteen? Twenty-four? At an age when ten-years-ago you toddled around and watched Sesame Street, ten-years-ahead presented the possibility of equally drastic changes.

And for whatever reason, I don’t remember trying to picture myself much beyond twenty-five or so, at least not from the vantage point of middle school — somehow that was Arriving. That was enough to be Grown-Up and settled, I suppose, into some kind of final form. And, largely, it was because twenty-five was misty enough; anything else (beyond vague images of one day having gray hair and wrinkles) was simply beyond the horizon. Twenty-three, twenty-four, that was what I struggled to picture.

But there she is, reflected on the subway windows and bathroom mirrors and computer screens.

3 Responses to “Time goes by, everything else keeps changing…”

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Cousin Sarah wrote a comment on August 25, 2008

This is very nice, and I’ve certainly done my share of omphaloskepsis.

“Grown-Up and settled, I suppose, into some kind of final form”

I have decided that this general social idea of ‘settled’ is a myth for me – it’s a Powers of 10 problem – have you seen that film?
However, there does seem to be a Point of Accumulation, at which one can look back and say, hmm, I’ve had these kinds of Encounters and made those Choices, that This is the sort of person I am, and I think I can live with that, so given present position, That Direction is where I’d like to go next.

Odette wrote a comment on August 25, 2008

Around the time I graduated from high school, one of my favorite quotations was something attributed to Thomas Carlysle: “Go as far as you can see: when you get there, you will be able to see farther.” Obvious, perhaps — what else could you possibly do? — but reassuring nonetheless. At ten or thirteen, twenty-two seems plenty old enough to be a “settled form,” but of course once you get to it, the very idea does seem a bit ridiculous. Slippery nature of time and all that. Which is what makes the act of looking back so amusing and surreal, I suppose.

Yup, I have seen Powers of 10. IB Theory of Knowledge was good for odd things like that; though I think I might have encountered it somewhere else as well.

Care to comment?