26 August 2012


Edit: This was meant to be posted earlier this week, but it just never seemed to happen. Either way, have some sleep-deprived rambling.

It is nighttime, I am sprawled on the couch, and embedded in the majority of my muscles is a taut, biting pain. I try not to move too much, as even the weight of my near weightless laptop on my thighs generates discomfort. The source of all this soreness? A few days ago (yeah, I stay sore for a long time) I climbed a mountain. Mount Si. To get up there, you walk a 4-mile (6.5km) trail until you reach a drizzly, icy summit plateau with a stunning view of a fog-veiled valley surrounded by trees. By the time you get up there, you're grateful for the cold; most of the trail is pretty steep and rocky, and by the time you're 4000ft up in the air, your feet, legs and abs are burning. And then there's the way back down. All in all, that's 4 miles of climbing, being out of breath, and pouring sweat, a sandwichy lunch on a rock 4167ft up in the air, surrounded by mist, and 4 miles descent that shifts the weight to your knees and the balls of your feet, and you can feel the latter rubbing against the soles of your shoes so much you can almost see sparks.
During said descent, my mind, which had up until then been busy dealing with the physical strain and subsequent pain via meditation and the processing of the natural splendour that was surrounding us, was ready for a more introverted type of distraction. The pain in my knees made me think about my mother, who has been an avid jogger ever since she was my age, and her advice about taking care of one's joints, especially the knees, as the natural cushioning that makes movement comfortable in one's youth tends to decrease with age, to the point where even walking isn't fun anymore. My mum's knees are fine, as far as I am aware, yet the discomfort I felt in my own knees during the 2-hour-long descent, and even afterwards as I was unwinding in the car on the ride home, made me wonder what I had possibly already damaged in my own body at only 25, and what I could have done differently had I known, a few years back, how certain things affect me now.
In an attempt to get to know more about you, I suppose, some people ask you, if you had to choose one super power, which would you choose? Or, more popularly, if you had one wish, what would it be? Some people choose invisibility, or the power to control time. If asked, I would choose to travel back in time to visit my 17-year-old self, invisibly, and for a month only. Plus, there'd be a bunch of conditions applying to this time travel, because I can't ever do anything simply: on top of being invisible (to everyone but 17-year-old me), I would have to have the ability to "change" things about myself without changing the experiences that I will end up having. Convenient, right? Basically, that would mean that the only thing I have an impact on are things like the mental and emotional perspectives (and reactions) I have to what happens to me: I do want my 17-year-old self to go ahead and have the experiences I had, but I want her to be more apt at dealing with them. Really, what this inconsistent and somewhat contradictory wish boils down to is that I want to be able to give advice to my past self, comfort her, as well as ensure that she sees, in activities she will be tempted to give up at that age, the value I clearly missed at her age. For instance, I would like to tell her to keep working out, and to stretch. At 25, I can easily blame the more consistant than occasional stiffness and cracking of bones on my sedentary student lifestyle, but I wish I didn't have to. I would tell her that what others think of her matters very little, and that, in fact, they judge her much less than she thinks they do, and that, in the end, whether they do or not shouldn't affect the worth she ascribes to herself. Or that she should not try to stuff holes in this sense of self-worth with other people; others don't make for very good band-aids, at the very best, and especially at that age, they make for fickle and undependable ones. I'd tell her that it's ok to show her legs, and that even if hers seem so much less perfect than other girl's, it doesn't matter, that although she's scared of putting herself out there, out there isn't as scary as she thinks it is, and that it won't be once she tries it.
Maybe I've just always wanted to be on both sides of the advice-machine. To be the one giving it and receiving it at the same time. Now that I've managed to sound sufficiently dirty, let me explain: being an only child who's still oblivious about how to act like a real adult (the ones you see in movies), and who's baffled as to how she's 25 already 'cause on the inside, she feels like a teenager most days, I feel that giving advice often amounts to feeling like you're throwing all the deep, painful truths it took you years to figure out into someone else's face, wrapped in unremarkable, poorly chosen words, and it just doesn't stick. Plus, why should they get to take the steps of life faster than you did, why should they get to take a shortcut when it comes to making experiences? Oh good, throw some jealousy in there, why don't you. That's your only child, right there. But all of this would be different if it was yourself (your past self, rather) you gave the advice to, right? You'd be the mature (erm), grown-up (sigh) one, the one who's gone through the crap you go to in your late teens and early twenties, and who can tell you that in the end, it's not all that bad, even though it isn't good; that you're going to cry a lot, but that cooling your swollen eyes with ice cubes before you go to bed is a good way not to wake up with a tear-encrusted, puffed-up piggyface the next day and make it totally obvious to everyone you didn't get your share of peaceful sleep. You'd tell your past self all this, and the past self would be understandably worried, and then probably call you a pansy and vow never to turn into you. Except they would. Because that's part of the contract attached to my wish: everything needs to turn out the way it is now, except I would have taken more chances, experienced more things, learned more about myself and my hidden resilience, etc. Yes, conveniently incongruous, we've been through this.
And then there'd be me, 17 years of age, on the listening side. I'd get advice from someone older, who actually knows me and knows what's good for me because they are me. Win-win. Or maybe not, we'd have to ask 37-year-old me, but I don't have access to that person yet. Not that I'd want to. That being said, this side of the advice-machine (why did I make that word combo up? Oh well, I'm tired) is as precious to me as the other one, because this is the side that gets to put the advice to use. So does my present side, but how nice does it sound to be 17 again and go through life with the advice and support from an older you? Basically, to get to do some of it over? To be younger, more energetic (except for when I was lethargic by choice – my interpretation of goth), to face a future that is now my past and get to play around in it some more.
I suppose that's what I've wanted for a while, and what triggers a lot of my regret-related anxiety (not that I need to tell the world about that, but while I'm at it...); advice is meant to make the recipient's life easier, or to soothe whatever part of them is hurting at the time. At best, it forges intimacy between two people, as well as trust. I find that the more I start listening to other people, and even looking to them for guidance, (that's the tricky part about my wish: I didn't listen to people much as a teenager – low blows that somewhat affected my self-esteem aside – ... didn't make me too popular with teachers, as you might imagine. Good thing there's no such thing as time-travel, not to visit your past self, anyway.) the more I turn to people older than me. In my mind, this makes total sense: I used to take advice, say on how to take care of my skin, hair, diet, from people my age, sometimes younger. This was due mostly to the fact that I had no idea people over 30 dabbled in things like the internet. Good thing I was wrong. I figured, who better to tell you about what to look after in your youth so it functions smoothly throughout the years and accompanies you soundly into age than people who've been through what still expects you? Though my mother doesn't share some of my views on beauty and health, I still trust her whenever she tells me to take care of my knees, my posture, my skin, and to wear sunscreen. I find that, in general, I trust women older than me more, and seek their judgment more than that of girls my age.
Climbing up and down Mount Si and feeling exhausted most of the way, until the point where my knees hurt, made me feel like I shouldn't have given up dancing, or running, and like, if such a thing were possible, I'd like to tell my past self to keep at it for our common sake. Then again, maybe this is just yet another expression of the fact that I need something to bump me into the present, and that I what I have now is the only basis for the future I will have.
What is the point of this post? I'm not sure. It's a lot of self-exposing jabber, but maybe there will be some sense to it. Really, I just wanted to talk about climbing a mountain and how it put me up to date on the status of my body. It's not awful, it's not even bad, but it's not 17 anymore, and the fact I trust a 40-year-old woman telling me what part of my bodily structure to take extra care of more than a 19-year-old girl doing the same, is simply due to the (sobering) realisation that, though I'm not a 40-year-old woman, I will very probably be one some day, whereas I will never again be 19.
Apparently, mountains, whether you're chained to the top of them with an eagle whose recurring visits serve to feed on your liver, or whether you're infinitely pushing a boulder uphill just to watch it invariably roll back down, have a way of making you reflect on your condition. Ours may be to decay, but at least we're not alone in our suffering of it; knowing that everybody goes through what you go through may not be sufficient consolation, but at least we get to ask one another how we get through it. Pretentious enough? I think so. 

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