Questions for my Future Self

This week’s Friday Five is from Rob of About Pip. As he says, it’s a “time travel one”:

If you could travel forward in time and meet yourself for a drink or a coffee somewhere, what are the five things you’d ask yourself about how your life turned out?

That’s an interesting question. I assume, if I am going to travel into the future to see myself, that I also remember, as an old man, having traveled into the future to see myself. Otherwise, of course, the answers would be all meaningless because I’d be potentially changing the direction of my life radically by this kind of conference (or based on the knowledge found therein). So I suppose the first thing I’d have to do would be to establish that the old Gord actually remembered meeting the old Gord when he was a younger Gord.

Granted that he did remember, then I would feel assured that there was no paradox involved, and then I could proceed on with my questions. Now, I’m going to limit them to personal questions, about my life, and not go into the kinds of questions I’d be asking about 21st century politics, economics, social and military history, and so on. I’d be immensely interested in those, and would want the older me to guide me through a day in the life of a person from his own class (as well as observe the lives of people in other classes and professions), but for now I’ll just ask the (to me far less interesting) questions about how my own life will turn out.

  1. What’s gonna get me? My maternal grandma had a stoke. My father survived a heart attack, relatively young, and lymphoma several years later. My maternal grandpa died in a bicycle accident. My paternal grandfather died after his second leg amputation due to clotting cutting off the circulation. Cancer runs in my family. (Maybe it runs in everyone’s family now.) Heart disease looms. My weight is a little more under control, bu my asthma is sometimes irritated by city life. But what are the major illnesses that I’m going to have to face down and fight off? And what adjustments to my routine should I make to ward off illness? I’ll quit having even the occasional fried chicken meal if it means no heart attack for me.
  2. Where’s the big battle for me? I have this growing feeling that I need to decide what the most important battle in the world is so that I can go join in fighting it. Maybe it’s a battle for the establishment of sane corporate law, or maybe it’s the fight to separate business and state (the way church and state needed to be torn apart since time immemorial). Actually, I’m happy enough to find my path on this, because I have a feeling there is no “right answer” here, just a series of options. I’m enjoying the struggle to find my way, honestly, so I don’t want to have the answer handed to me on a silver platter, But I’m curious as to which one I will choose, and how it will pan out, so… I’ll include it in my list.
  3. Help me out with sax equipment, dude. I need to sort out once and for all my musical equipment, such as buying a new tenor sax and getting my mouthpiece/reed setup perfected. I like the feel of some reeds but the sound via microphone is bad, and the reeds I like less, sound better through the mic. And of course there’s the problem of my mouthpiece: ever since I stupidly traded my best mouthpiece for a crappy (and now cracked) hard rubber Meyer mouthpiece, thinking I was just exchanging it for a try, I’ve been unsatisfied with every mouthpiece I’ve tried. My new Otto Link 6-star doesn’t really cut it, for some reason—I think the bore and chamber are slightly too big but I’m not sure—and living in Korea often means making do with a brand of reed I would never actually choose to buy if I were back home. If reeds are cheaper in the States, I think I’ll buy some and bring them with me. Because they’re an arm and a leg here. But the thing is, I wish I could get my setup right. Once my student loans are paid off, I will be getting a new tenor sax, and I’ll experiment with mouthpieces and reeds until I do perfect my setup; but it’d be nice if my future self could just tell me what I need to go out and get, because that kind of experimenting is not fun. Not fun at all. I’d also like to know where to go buy used saxes of high quality. Hmmm. A tenor, a soprano, maybe an alto for good measure. I’d love a baritone but I think I’d only ever use it in the studio; it’s too much of a pain to carry around, you know? Unless, of course, I had a sax quartet and I needed to be the baritone guy in the band. But I think I might be just as happy renting a bari sax. Oh, I’d ask my future self if there is anywhere that rents out instruments in Korea, too.
  4. I’d ask in a very roundabout way not whether I will have kids, but rather if there are any absolutely crucial mistakes I should be wary of making with any kids I might have. I’m less curious about whether it turns out I have kids (I suppose it’ll eventually happen) but I am intensely curious about how well I manage a job like parenting, or rather I am intensely curious about what kinds of mistakes I will make.
  5. I’d ask if there is any one absolutely crucial professional error that I should avoid. Perhaps the publication of a political article that makes publishing thereafter difficult for me, or a novel that bombs and necessitates my taking up a penname. Or neglecting my poetry, which after a long struggle and surrender in fiction, becomes my successful mainstay, or something. Yeah, I’d like to be warned about one mistake I should look out for as a writer, and then let that be that.

I suppose there are many more far-reaching questions I could ask about my life and “how it turned out”, but then again I think that finding out how my life turned out is something that would take out some of that magic of living my life as I go along. You know, there’s an article Ursula K. Le Guin wrote once, and in it she describes this Indian tribe from somewhere in South America, I think (I can’t remember for sure) whose metaphor for the way we move through time in our lives involves walking backwards into the future: you can see the past clearly but all you can do with the future is glimpse around and try to guess, and hope. As it is, I’m even a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting this old Gord for a drink or coffee: what if he wants coffee: does that mean he’s gone teetotal? What if he wants whiskey? Has he succumbed to the genes that ensured his paternal grandpa had a glass of whiskey in hand day-in, day-out (as my mother reports it, anyway; though in his defense she also says he was never drunk).

I don’t know how good for me too much of seeing the future would be; too much knowledge might, well, ruin the fun of making mistakes and learning things on the way. I know from my life experience that even from the mistakes you’d never make if you had the chance to live your life once more, even from those mistakes you learn and grow.

I’m pretty happily absorbed in this “walking backwards” business now, of course, because a rain of blessings is showering down onto my life. I know for a fact that a year ago I would have asked far different questions, far more edgy ones and ones laden with existential dilemma-sounding implications. But I feel like I’ve settled into living my life, walking backwards into my future like the rest of people around me, and I even think it’s kind of exciting that way. But from where I stand right now, I much less want a road map, as much as just a few travel tips and warnings about pitfalls and cliffs.

Oh, one runner up: I would ask where in Korea the good fishing holes are around here. I like fishing but never catching anything does wear on one after a while.

Yes, I’d like to look a little like this old happy guy on selected afternoons in my old age. And hey, look at that fish. The image is a link to the source, by the way; it’s used without permission, because nobody will really care and because it’s a funny pic.

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