Wednesday, May 16, 2012


If you could talk to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?  What advice, warnings, or encouragement would you give your younger self?

Oh, he comes now and then, striding, talking to himself, his pale London Fog raincoat swirling around him, his fine blond hair floating over his shoulders and gathering particles of mist. He was never quite in focus, and he always had that broad grin, the grin of someone anxious to be liked, anxious not to give offense. He went long walks and sang, or recited verse. Or argued things out earnestly with himself. What would I tell him? I don't know. He was smarter and quicker than I am: I don't know that I'd have much business trying to teach him things.

I might tell him: the problem is not finding a utopia. The problem is making yourself a person who could live in a utopia. Do that, and the utopia will come of its own accord. Fail at that, and no utopia will be of any use to you, even in the unlikely event that any will let you in.

I might tell him: you haven't got a narrative bone in your body. Give up trying to write fiction. Give up trying to be published. The last thing you want to do is muddle your making with your livelihood.

I might tell him: pay more attention to the people you like, and less to the people you admire.

I might tell him: of all the things you're doing now, only one will turn out to have been important and have lasting consequences, and that's finding a wife.

I might tell him, you'll be stout all your life. Save yourself a lot of grief and don't fret about it.

I might tell him: you take money too seriously and not seriously enough. It's never going to mean anything, but you are going to want it.

I might tell him: look, Kierkegaard says Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Don't try so hard not to be anxious. Don't try to make it hang together. Let the shutters bang in the wind.

I might tell him: beauty will always be a grief to you.

And I might tell him also: spend more time nesting and less time gallivanting.

I might. But I the longer I think about this question, the more it's borne in upon me: I shouldn't be trying to give this young man advice, warnings, encouragement. I should be doing what he most desperately needs someone to do: I should be listening to him.

I should say: sit down with me here, where there's a sound of water, and tell me. Tell me everything, the grief and the longing, the anxiety and the shyness. Tell me about being invisible. Tell me about the dream-maze, far underground, where you wander in the dark, catching glimpses sometimes of a man who is searching, carrying a glimmer in his left hand. What is he be looking for? Why do you see him, at the far end of a long, narrow gallery, every night as you fall into sleep?

One of us is the dreamer and one the dreamed, I suppose. Do we trade places, in the small hours of the night? Does one of us hand off the glimmer to the other, and turn back, defeated again, to find his way back to the daylight world?

No, I don't think advice, or warnings, or encouragement are in order here. I don't understand anything that he didn't.


Hannah said...

I would say: It's okay. You think, you're messing it up and in a way you do, but it's okay. It will be worse some time, but it will be better, too. And pleaaaase start learning any language. You really will need it, dumbass.

rbarenblat said...

Oh! Oh, Dale, this is such a wonderful post. I can picture you at sixteen, I have such love in this moment for you at sixteen. (Having once been sixteen myself, and having had some things in common with you then I think, I overflow with compassion for that boy.)

The advice you offer here is sound and wise. But I am especially moved by your realization that what you-at-sixteen needed most was to be listened-to, to be heard and understood. {{{you}}}

Robbi N. said...

All of us should emulate this impulse, and write to that once-was-us 16 year old.
This is beautiful and apt, but if somehow through the fog of years your voice could reach you in the past, that 16 year old would not listen, of course. That's what's so poignant.

christopher said...

Must be the season, Dale. I wrote of being twenty three in the long ago and sixty four a couple years back and posted it in rotation just yesterday.

Jessamyn said...

I love that the wisdom of this piece is the tenderness of it. Just beautiful, Dale.

Zhoen said...

Yes. Listen to yourself, accept yourself and your journey. I would reassure my young self to trust my instincts, that it will be alright, and that's about it.

Dick said...

Beautiful and true, this, Dale. How valuable the pairing!

Sophia said...

I smiled at the being stout part. This is so lovely.