Lately I've been spending a half hour here or there in 2002. It's a disorienting form of time travel: typing "www.livejournal.com" into my web browser, logging into my account, acclimating my vision to the bright blue background and small black Times New Roman Font as I flip the calendar back 19 years.
Some things about being 19 I remember viscerally. For example, sitting on the floor of the poetry section at Border's (RIP) on many a Saturday night. The longing, the loneliness, the thinking I knew everything already. That I remember. Many of the details I'd forgotten, prompting many a cringe as I sat with that younger girl. At times I wondered if letters were in order. You know, the kinds of letters people in recovery write to those they have wronged. Messages of "I'm sorry" and "I take responsibility for my actions." But then I warmed up to "Liz," as I was called then. I saw that she was scared and angry, but also brave and loving. I'm impressed by all the dreams she had for her life.
At age 19, I was just trying to figure things out. There's a lot more therapy and life experience behind me now, and my frontal cortex is fully developed, but I'm still just trying to figure things out. I used to imagine life as linear, a bright white contrail of progress. Now I feel that the passing of time is circular. Round and round, up and down--more carousel than rocket.
Last week my first grader came home with a problem at school and I asked my co-workers for advice. "Here's what I'd say," one shared with me, but "I don't have kids so I don't know." Well, I told her, having a child is a biological process and unfortunately there's no special Book of Wisdom bestowed on you when you have a baby. I spent all day trying to figure it out and then took my daughter to Panera for a smoothie and just listened to her version of events. I may not know the right thing to say but I can give her my time and attention. I've certainly learned in other relationships that listening is often more powerful than advice. It's hard, though, to resist the impulse to fix things, to stop believing that everything can be fixed if only you read this book, take this course, etc etc.
Why am I revisiting old journals? "Good writing is about telling the truth," says Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. I'm working on a novel about characters in that 19-early 20s age range and my husband wisely reminded me that conveying the truth of the feeling is more important than the chronology of events. So I'm faithfully excavating, knowing that the more cringe-worthy the feeling, the better fiction it will make. I want the best for my characters, just as I do for my real-life children, but in both cases, they have to figure things out for themselves. I am here to listen, to get comfortable with the messiness.