My title comes from an old post by A White Bear, which resonated with me at the time and which has remained with me. I don't know what to do about the past. And I'm obsessed by my own insufficiency in the face of it.
Mind you, I don't consider myself a person who lives in the past; I rarely waste time regretting past actions (sometimes things need to be atoned for, but that's about moving forward rather than getting bogged down in what can't be changed), and I'm not prone to depression. I'm future-directed and tend to have faith that things will eventually, inevitably, get better: my life is Whig history in action!
But although my personal narrative is generally one of progress and improvement, I've never been able to dismiss earlier stages and selves as merely shadowy types prefiguring a glorious and eventual Truth. Neither am I able to shrug and say, "that was then, this is now." I'm baffled--totally baffled--by the fact that one reality ended, and things changed. How can I not be the person that I was then? Or if I am that person, why isn't the present the same as the past?
Much of my writing on this blog has been an attempt to assimilate my experience of graduate school: to make sense of how I got to where I am now, and what role that uniquely horrible period of my life played in getting me here. I feel totally unlike the person I was then, but I was that person, for years and years. Yes, I can talk glibly about lessons learned and how I'm so much better for all of it, but even though I believe that narrative, the lived experience was something more than its role in that story.
I'm equally unable to make sense of my past romantic relationships. I don't understand how it's possible to go from having someone as a central feature of your world to someone who is at best peripheral to it. Again, this isn't about wanting to return to those relationships, or even about nostalgia, exactly; I feel this about my "bad" boyfriends as well as my "good" ones, and about relationships that I ended as well as those that were ended against my wishes. There was this thing, made up of two people. The two people still exist, but the thing does not.
The past has its own weather. And just as when we live in one climate it's hard to remember the feeling of living in another, so it's hard to capture, in the present, what it was to live in the past. We can describe it endlessly, and even accurately, but we can't quite conjure it up. I know how intensely I used to love certain books or movies or songs, and I get a nostalgic thrill when I reencounter them, but I can't feel that original feeling.
I need my past. I'm terrified of losing it. But I can't gain any purchase on it.