Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Theme and variation

Last week it occurred to me that virtually all of my friends are, RIGHT NOW, in the midst of major life changes: some have finally finished school and are starting new careers; others are going back to school after having worked for a decade; some have just had their first baby; others are getting married or divorced.

Initially, this just seemed like more of the same. Since graduating from college, many of us have made some kind of change on a near-yearly basis--switching apartments, cities, employers, or boyfriends in a blinding blur. (So many of my friends have moved so many times that I have to hunt to find anything in my address book--half the entries are scratched out and the rest are written in any old place, under any old letter.)

But these, I think, are truly big changes, and ones that will shape at least the next few years of our lives. But. . . shape them how, exactly?

I've been complaining a lot, to a lot of people, about not knowing what the narrative of my life is supposed to be, and in one of those conversations HK reminded me that I used to go around offering, from Kierkegaard, the observation "life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward."

(And okay, that's a pretty shameful revelation--but if you think there's nothing more annoying than a 20-year-old who goes around saying, "as Kierkegaard says. . ." you'd be wrong: at one of HK's law firm interviews, when asked about the unusual series of jobs she'd held since college and what they added up to, she commented, vaguely, that one of her friends used to say [the above quotation]. Her interviewer replied, "Actually, that's Kierkegaard. I mean, your friend didn't just make that up.")

And what strikes me about that induced memory isn't the total profundity of that quotation, but the fact that. . . well. . . I guess I've always felt this way. Back when I kept a journal, I had this experience with some regularity. I'd flip through an older volume, start reading, and discover, hey! That thing in my current life and those deep self-realizations it was provoking? Uh, I'd already had them. Like, five years earlier.

As humbling as these moments are, especially when they involve having made the same fucking mistakes or operating under the same flawed assumptions, there's also something comforting about them. I have changed, in quite a lot of ways, so there's a pleasure--even if it's a rueful one--in signs of continuity.

And so now, thinking about the Big Changes that many of my friends are experiencing, I'm resisting the urge to say--whether in sorrow or in delight--"Things are totally different! Life will never be the same!" Because every single time I've ever thought that, I've been wrong. And maybe it simply is that we remain mostly the same people and tend to persist in the same behaviors, but it's hard not to feel that there are larger narrative patterns at work when doors that appeared closed suddenly open; people disappear only to reappear; and answers arrive to questions we weren't aware we had asked.

Still. One part of my past self that doesn't need to reappear? The quoting philosophers part. The pretentiousness there's probably no help for.

3 comments:

heu mihi said...

Interesting. Lately I've been thinking a lot about my own habits, and in some cases I feel that I'm only now recognizing them *as* habits (I'm thinking in particular of social-type behaviors: how I deal with transitions, awkwardness in given situations, how I relate to certain kinds of people). Your post somehow resonates with this--how we only later recognize that we're falling into a pattern. I find some comfort in these realizations, too, although maybe not for the reason you give here: I can be a little easier on myself, and also know what to expect from myself (and so, in some cases, can anticipate potential traps and negative behaviors before it's too late) (I hope). Predictability can be good--especially when one is in a state of life that requires so much changing and adapting.

Neophyte said...

Maybe that's why reading is so enjoyable? Because it not only can but should, frequently, be done backwards? ("Ya didn't make that up, mouse, that's Nabokov.") Some kind of comfort in that particular variety of staking out a small bit of control over time, perhaps, or at least comfort within it.

Funny about change, too -- I think the big milestone moment of official grown-up-hood for me will be when things stop changing for a while, when I can stop moving and adjusting every five minutes and just sit still. (Maybe before ten years are out? A girl can dream.)

Scrivener said...

I'm another one with the major life changes, though I wish mine didn't entail becoming an unemployed single father, and I'm appreciating being reminded of that quote. I don't think that finding out that new revelations aren't so new is anything to be humbled by. It's like we spiral around the big ideas and the big emotional triggers of our lives, but with each pass we come at it from a slightly different angle.

Just because the 20-year-ago you found that quote profound and so does the present-you doesn't mean you understand exactly the same thing by it now as you did then. 20-year-ago-you would not have written this blog post out of that quotation. See? Growth.