Sunday, March 22, 2009

Looking Backward

I spent an hour, the other day, peeling away the layers of my "What if" self. This is the part of me that wonders too often what my life would be like had it taken a different route.

The single biggest obstacle to my personal happiness may be pondering other scenarios. I am a person for whom a strong sense of security/consistency is paramount, yet I married a man who likes change. I wanted to be a writer yet I went into sales. I could draw at an early age yet I abandoned an art degree because I did not want to be graded. My friends are my best pillars of support and connection yet I've moved too many times to count.

My therapist tells me being in the state of "what if" is pointless. He likes to pose the question, "If you had it to do over again what would you do differently?" I give an answer: "I would take more chances" he looks at me and says "Is taking more chances better?" I don't know what he means by that and say so. He responds, "If you had taken more chances do you think your life would be more meaningful, more important...better?" Of course, the dialog is more drawn out than this but he eventually gets me to where I have to admit that I don't think having done this or that differently would be more important, meaningful or better than what I did do.

I've had to fight this kind of melancholy all my life...that urge to regret the past. I do understand how pointless it is. An oft repeated phrase these days is "It is what it is." I hate that saying. It may be true but it trivializes whatever "it" is.

I am drawn more to literary interpretation. The Great Gatsby is, among other thing, about trying to recreate a life; a life that never existed except in the mind of the title character. Nick Carraway tell Gatsby he can't repeat the past and Gatsby replies "Can't repeat the past?...why of course you can!"

Then, there is my all time favorite poem about what if.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them both about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Perhaps I take this all too literally and that is what makes all the difference.


____Maggie said...

It's not too late to start going off road. Take up art again! Set aside some time to write! It only takes 500 words a day to make a book in a year... ;D

California Girl said...

Hi Maggie: The blog is my writing exercise for now although I've discovered I'm a commentator who writes in a conversagtional style. I stayed in the Humanities by switching from Art to Eng. Lit. It influenced and enriched me but hindered my writing because I was too self conscious. I did write a great deal of poetry when I was in my twenties and it stands up. I loved that. I think I've found my voice through letter writing, email and blogging: conversational and easy. I'm glad of that!

R.L. Bourges said...

the reality principle the therapist mentions - very important, of course. But unless you're lucky enough to come across a therapist who is also crazy about the creative process, not too many of them understand much about the inner gnawing to express the things not lived, the roads not followed the 'what if's' wanting to have their day in the sun. To the creatively-minded, these are just as real and important as the acceptance of life as it is - which, let's face it, would kill us all of boredom, were it not for movies, and books, and paintings, and blogs and...


California Girl said...

RL: you care correct about the creative meanderings of the mind. And perhaps that is why I get so frustrated.

DawnTreader said...

I think there is a difference between wondering about vs. regretting one's choices in the past. You can only speculate about what would have happened "if"; there is no way to know for certain.

Lover of Life said...

I think there is something you need to do, and the feeling of not taking a different path is nagging you to get it done. I am a procrastinator, and often feel as though I'd better do what I need to do, before it's too late. That goes with losing parents that died young, I think. So maybe you need to look at the things that you are good at, but abandoned, like art, and see if there is something that needs to be accomplished/finished.

Sorry - I know you already have a therapist! But from a lifespan perspective - we are not getting any younger - if we have something we need to be doing, then we need to get on it. I am struggling with just issue right now.

P.S. - The Vanity Fair article was very good. Thanks.

California Girl said...

DT: Good point. Sometimes I do just wonder and other times I have regrets, tho' as I age, the regret seems to be shrinking. Perhaps I am better at understanding now.

LOL: You always say the right thing. I swear, we would be close friends if we met. You may counsel me anytime.

Tanna said...

I think just before we are about to make a change or create something we love... we become miserable. It is like being pregnant. That itch is brewing, fermenting, waiting, growing... we become more and more uncomfortable... without that discomfort, would we ever move from this spot? Would we ever change or create or consider? I doubt it. That is one of my all time favorite poems, too. Thank you for bringing it to mind again and thank you for your honest sharing. Carpe diem.

Joanne said...

It's mind boggling when we start to think of all the different decisions we could've made, each one putting us on a different path. But like you said, none more or less important than the one we chose. Love the poem.

Reya Mellicker said...

This is a beautiful, honest post. Thank you for this. What a gift.

Who among us doesn't find ourselves, from time to time, in that space of wondering WHAT IF? No one I've ever known has moved through life without contemplating the choices he/she has made.

I think the contemplations are what bring wisdom, and open the path ahead and help us know our own hearts better. The WHAT IF mind form can help us cultivate compassion for ourselves.

Do you know that Beth Orton song Sweetest Decline? She says regrets are just things we haven't done yet.

Peel those layers and give yourself a big ole BRAVO for thinking and working and telling the truth! Bravo!!!

California Girl said...

Tanna, Joanne & Reya: thank you for the feedback and positive comments because I do feel guilty sometimes when I go down the "what if" path. Other times it is just musing but it's when I'm in a bad mood or wishing things were know!

Tanna said...

Yes. Yes, I do know...

Ruth said...

Thank you for sharing your inner workings. I myself am overly analytical, and sometimes it has made me miserable. Thankfully, good friends have helped me talk through many issues that have helped me gain confidence in my life as it is now.

One interesting twist on what you wrote (and the very interesting comments too) is something I heard Eckhart Tolle say: Given the exact same circumstances and the same genes, we would make identical choices if in another person's shoes. I think of that often, and it has helped me be less judgmental of others, and of myself too!

California Girl said...

Ruth: that is something to think about. It seems logical. I guess it's not so much about would I make a different choice had I to do it over again but, what would have happened had I made the choice differently? Quite a difference indeed. thank you!

Star said...

Hi, I can identify with this post. When I hit 50 I made a conscious decision to say yes instead of no wherever possible. Following on from that decision, I find myself with a new husband, living 5000 miles away from my home. In the past, I could always find an excuse for not doing something I really wanted to do. It was always "I can't because of the children or the dog or the husband", always some excuse, but not anymore. Now, if I find a plastic bag in my prawn cocktail - I shout across the restaurant, "Hey, you, waiter - there's a plastic bag in my prawn cocktail, what are you going to do about it". I would never have done that before. They say it is better to regret the things you have done than the things you have not. I agree with that.
Blessings, Star

California Girl said...

Star: I love this! I really do. What I'm wondering is, can I get a new partner and a new life and live 5000 miles away from where I now am too? (Can you tell I'm sick of my life as it is, particularly as I've had the flu all week so I'm in a low mental state to begin with?) But no, really, your comment is about saying "Yes" and I've got to remember that.

Deboshree said...

"WHAT IF??" Inevitably these words hit the mind of every thinking individual...what if this and what if that....and then there is no end.

I firmly believe that everything in life happens for a reason and there is no such thing as a coincidence.

I had once read this and please make note of this-
We should never regret anything in life because when that something happened,it happened because WE WANTED IT TO HAPPEN and anything that brings us happiness at that time in not worth being regretted.
I have started to think like this and believe me,there were many things I used to regret and now I don't!
And if there are things you want to do, do you honestly think it is too late now?
Think of it this way my friend,
the lessons you have learnt and things you have experienced in this path can never be experienced in some other path.Cherish everything you have and if you want more, only you can do it.

Best wishes
You write very well by the way.

California Girl said...

Deboshree: You are right, of course. I cannot tell you how often I tell myself some of what you just said. The part I haven't told myself, the part that resonates for me right now, is "the lessons you have learnt and things you have experienced in this path can never be experienced in some other path." That is true and needs to be remembered. Thank you for your wisdom.

Shadow said...

hello again,

I do understand the feeling, not easy to let go of the things we think we could've done diferently, but i do think of all the rich experiences all my choices gave me and how happy i am by the way i have deal with all of them...
So even if we think we lost alot in life with our choices, we did get alot more in return, like getting to know who we realy are and what we want at some point, after all those choices...

California Girl said...

Hello Shadow: another wise comment and it goes along with what Debroshee said. I am particularly embarrassed by these feelings when I realize I have enjoyed so much, despite painful episodes, and there are millions of others who seemingly enjoy so little due to circumstances beyond their control. They probably don't spend time looking backward but rather wondering "what if my life were different?"

Well, it's Easter and I'm going to church to pray for forgiveness. Sounds trite but it's true. Again, thank you for your comment.

Liza said...

Happy Easter California Girl! I noticed we have the same taste in Frost Poetry. I posted this sometime ago. I, too, have taken it literally...and it has made all the difference.


California Girl said...

Welcome Liza and thank you for the comment. A few days after writing this post I had a business appointment in another town and chanced upon a great book store there and they had a volume called "Selected Poems of Robert Frost". I don't know who selected them but I bought it. I once had "The Complete Poems of Robert Frost" in a very large book but lost it. He never ceases to amaze me.

Shadow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shadow said...

Hello again,

Thank you for your kindness,California Girl.
I do not know if I'm "wise", It's what I have learned from all i've expirienced, my truth as i call it...
From my point of view, we all see things diferently so maybe the few things we do have all in common is how hard it takes for us to forgive ourselves and just feel free to enjoy life and learn all that we can to grow and be stronger...
Nothing else exists for us to have, we only own ourselves, nothing more prescious...

Big Kiss take care , I love your blog...

April 12, 2009 7:42 PM

California Girl said...

Shadow: Forgiveness of ones' self. That is hard.

Today is a day of forgiveness and I will take to heart what you've said.

big kiss back. thank you so much.


by Cole Scott