Monday, March 09, 2009

Regret Is A Four Letter Word

I've been thinking about high school a bit lately. Mainly because a former classmate has recently been gathering many of us together for a sort of virtual reunion on Facebook. As I noted the other day, I didn't find high school particularly enjoyable so, aside from a few folks, most of my interest has essentially been seeing how far off I was in my predictions of their lives. (I haven't taken a complete survey of my accuracy, but I seem to floating around 50/50.)

With that introduction, I recently finished reading Alex Robinson's Too Cool to be Forgotten. It's about a 40-year-old who undergoes hypnosis therapy to try to quit smoking. While he's under, he winds up reliving his high school days shortly before he had his first cigarette. He comes to the conclusion that if he's able to avoid having that first cigarette, that will snap him back to reality and he'll have no further cravings for nicotine. He eventually comes to realize, though, that it wasn't just the first cigarette that has kept him smoking for so many years, and it's some other unresolved issues from that same period that are the real cause. It's not until he confronts those that he returns to the present.

At face value, the book is confronts a philosophical question: how much different would your current self be, if you were able to change one aspect of your past? The deeper underpinning, though, is more intriguing, I think, in that it asks what are the REAL causes for your contemporary problems and insecurities. In the case of protagonist Robert Wicks, smoking was an escape from parts of his teenage home life. Although we don't see it, we learn that his younger sister responded to the same situation with sexual promiscuity. Our motives in adulthood are not always as obvious as we might expect, but the rationale is there. It's just buried deep sometimes.

The story flow is very good. There was never an issue figuring out how one panel moved to the next, even though Robert's appearance would fluctuate from his gangly teenage self to his older, slightly saggier frame. Even though those appearances would change in detail to reflect the intensity of emotion of the scene. Robinson always seemed to know how to best handle change-ups like that to ensure the reader was never left confused.

The sole exception, though, is the intentional typo on page 84. (There's a note about it at the end of the book, making a point to absolve the editors from any blame for missing it.) I was able to figure out the Freudian slip Robinson was attempting there, but the placement of said typo within the word balloon made it look more like a word was omitted, not that an existing one was spelled wrong. It actually took me several readings of the page to figure out how that was supposed to be read. I think something as simple as moving the word to the previous line would have alleviated the problem entirely, and may have made the foreshadowing it portends more subtle.

That said, it was really the only issue I took with the story. One problem with one word's placement in 128 pages? It's an absolute nitpick, but the rest of the work runs so smoothly that it does stand out. The book is excellent and well worth your time, and I suspect most people won't even notice the one word.

And hopefully, some of you aging Gen X-ers might learn something to boot. Robert's cigarette smoking is a form of regret over not having done what he wanted to do when he was 15. Me? I don't have regrets. I've always been happy with who I am as a person, and that person is the sum total of everything I've experienced in my life, good and bad. I am who I am because of who I was and, if anything about who I was changed, I would be a different person today. Maybe better, maybe worse, but definitely different. But since I like who I am right here and right now, there's no reason in the world I'd want to change that.

I don't begrudge the bitches and bullies who gave me whatever emotional scars I received because those people no longer exist. They're 20 years older now, just like I am, and have 20 years of life piled on. And at the same time, the people I might have called friends aren't around either -- they've been replaced by responsible, respectable adults. I can't change that, and I don't want to. I live in the present (and, when I can, the future) -- the past is over and done with, and there's nothing I can do to change that. You can either wallow in the what ifs and coulda beens, or you can take what you have right here and right now and work towards the future, because that's the direction of the time line you can change.

My goal has always been being/doing better than the day before. I'm not always successful, admittedly, but regret is just a way of looking in the rear view mirror; I'd rather see what's coming up ahead.

1 comment:

razorlight6 said...

I agree. Regardless of how we feel about the past, the present is what we have, and the future is what we can use to change or maintain it.