Monday, March 9, 2009

You Can't Escape Your Past

It's another dreary early March day in Streeterville, 38 degrees and overcast at the Mini. the water movement in the lake continues to herd all the leftover chunks of ice toward the shore to die like a pod of whales playing follow the leader to their deaths on the beach. Today the little oval ice chunks that look like white corpuscles are back, all huddled against the shore and one another. The icepuscles are gathered attempting to fight the warmth, and fighting a losing battle.

As it happens I have re-invented myself several times in my life. I enjoy being able to do that. It allows me to grow, to change, to move on, to experience new things in life without having to recycle the same old experiences with all the same people.

When I was really young, I only knew my family and immediate relatives. They knew me as this kid who was precocious, really picky in his eating habits, and very strong-willed. I went off to school and when I began to interact with other kids and saw what they were like, I re-invented myself for them and for the teachers. I became the smart kid, but I learned how to be cool as well. I learned how to be popular. I was one person at home. I was another at school.

When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a typewriter and a suitcase for graduation. I suppose it was because they knew I was going away to college soon, but I always preferred to tell it as "They gave me a typewriter and a suitcase, so I took the hint and I left." I went away to college and away from both family and childhood friends at school, I became someone else entirely. Everyone at home knew me as that kid who won a scholarship and was in all probability going to be successful. I became a radical intellectual. I became a hippie.

When I got out of college, there was a bit of a college hangover, but I re-invented myself again. I became an actor. I became the struggling artist. I went off to graduate school on the intellectual part of my being, but I ended up in an improv company and became one of those guys with a day job and a calling that took up all his spare time at night. I had left the state of my birth. I had left all that people back home knew of me. I lost my Southern accent.

The starving artist version of me lasted for a number of years, but in 1985 I met Babs and our lives intertwined. We came to Chicago. The acting gig led to a certain pride in many things I'd done, but it never led to riches. I re-invented myself. I went back to school. I became an educator. I took a job overseas in Guam. Babs re-invented herself as a journalist. We re-invented ourselves as world travelers. We saw Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and scads of islands in the Pacific Rim. We returned to Chicago wiser and more experienced.

Babs re-invented herself as an editor, as a writer who makes academic prose understandable to ordinary citizens. Now she is on the verge of re-inventing herself as an author. I re-invented myself as a guy who runs marathons, who plays guitar, and writes songs. Babs and I separated ourselves from a great many of our friends and re-invented ourselves as downtown people, living in a high-rise on the lakefront, just down the street from Oprah. Now I am on the verge of another renewal with my writing, and suddenly the past came calling at my door,....via Facebook and the internet in general. I have been tracked down by my past.

Most of us change over time. We move from place to place. We change our mode of dress. We change our hair. We change what we do. We begin to think that we have left it all behind, and then it all finds us once again. People from another era friend you on Facebook. People from another era find your e-mail address. People from high school find you. People from college find you. Old girlfriends, ex-wives, old roommates, oh and relatives. It's then you realize that you haven't really re-invented yourself at all. What you have done is build layer upon layer through years and years of life experiences. Through all that processing, what comes out at the end of the tube may look entirely different than it did when it went in at the other end, or than it did at various places in transit, but it's all just you.

You cannot escape who you are, and all of those permutations from the past are just as legitimate as the current new, improved version. All of those people from the past own a piece of who you are and it is impossible to just divest yourself of them. They helped make the current you. The question is, "How can you make them a part of your current life, without resorting to living in the past?" I guess you let them know who you currently are and if they can accept you on those terms you become new friends, if not, you reminisce for a brief moment and move on.

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