"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.
As I wrote in my account of Chowhound's latter days:
I don't remember much, aside from day after day of waking, going to the computer, and, many hours later, getting back up and going off to sleep. I'd often forget to eat. Days would drift by where I didn't go outside or talk to anyone. Literally everything in my life was eventually let go of: my health, most of my friendships, my musical career (even my trombone technique), and any notion of romance.When the smoke cleared, I found myself in a Rip Van Winkle situation, and my emergence from suspended animation has provided a unique perspective.
Having lost track of many friends for a decade or so, I've gradually reestablished contact over the past few years. Of course, most are not as I remember them. In 1998, we were young. Now, we're not. Fifteen years is a surprisingly long time. So there's grey hair galore, and, through my eyes, the transition has been jarringly sudden. Normally, friends age so gradually that the process is barely noticeable. But to me, it's instant-on. It's as if they'd been baked overnight in kilns.
And here's what I've noticed. Old friends divide into two camps: those who are exactly the same beneath what seems like stage makeup, and those who seem squarely (in all senses of the word) middle-aged.
Naturally, I gravitate to the former. I feel they've kept alive something that others have let die. But I'm not certain I'm right about this. Might it be more flowing, more grounded, more sane to fully inhabit one's age? After all, "Peter Pan" is never a flattering association when it appears in the titles of self-help books.
The other day, as I ran up a flight of steps, a stranger tightened his face and asked if maybe I wasn't "a bit too old" for such undignified behavior. The suggestion struck me dumb; I didn't know how to even process it. Am I really supposed to constantly rejigger myself to meet people's expectations of how someone of my nominal age ought to act? If so, geez, I'd need to rethink pretty much everything!
When I was seven, and just beginning to send messages ahead in time to my adult self, the most urgent one was this: grown-ups who sever all ties with their childhood selves lose something essential. The perqs of maturity should be fully embraced, but a certain essence must be retained. I observed that this essence rarely survived to adulthood, but my childhood self, precociously aware of being father to my adult self, was determined to see it through.
So I know his answer: he chooses perpetuation, and releases a jolt of righteous satisfaction when he sees himself in me and in others. Dad, in other words, approves.
But is he being a tyrant? Is the original protagonist in this story blocking the natural progression out of some narcissistic determination to remain central to the narrative? Or is it simply a matter of clarity and freshness and light declining to be crusted over by bitterness, psychic baggage, free radicals, and other empty sedimentation?
Read the next installment