Resident guest author Tim, shares this wonderful piece with us about hindsight. Do you suffer from hindsight?
I suffer from hindsight.
I suffer from the amazing clarity of knowing what I ought to have done, what I might have done differently, what would have happened if only they had acted in a certain way and how happy, contented, well respected, wealthy I could have been.
Just in case you think this is about to descend into a self-serving whine, I’m happy, content, respected by those who believe I deserve respect, and have enough money for my needs, though never enough for my desires. I expect I can get a good whine in, though, here and there, if I try.
My hindsight problem is less and less. This is April 2017 and I’ve been working on it since October 1965, when I was a few weeks over the age of 13, but in odd ways. All will be come, well, if not clear exactly, at least translucent.
Living in Hindsight
Until 1998, I had no idea I was living in hindsight. In 1998, I suddenly had a shock. To be fair, though, it’s hard not to have a shock suddenly. Shocks that are slow in arrival aren’t shocks at all. But, in 1998, my world (that I was surviving in) collapsed. I know with precision where I was and what I was doing.
I was at home, in a lovely hot bath, with candles lit, and the lights off. It had been provided by my wife, with love. The setting was peace and tranquillity. And, in that setting, I found myself in a deluge of sudden tears. Those tears didn’t really lift for several years after that.
After that point, I would cry a lot for reasons of hindsight. I was no longer living in hindsight, but I was affected deeply by my view of my life gone past.
I talked to a therapist after that. He decided I had ‘enjoyed’ a breakdown (‘enjoy’ is far better than ‘suffer’ but the words are both mine, not his). I, because I have always known better, decided that was not correct. The reality is probably between those positions, in that I could have had a breakdown, but that my needing to continue to function was stronger than the triggers to short term total emotional and intellectual collapse. I did suffer from the emotional collapse, though. Still did until a couple of years ago.
“I shoulda done things differently in the many years between 1965 and 1998. I know I coulda. If I had, then things in 1998 woulda been different.”
I know, today, my perfect 20/20 hindsight was blurred, was out of focus. I suffered from out of focus hindsight. To some extent, I still do but I want to change ‘suffered’ to ‘am affected by’ and make that ‘am increasingly less affected by’ instead. Back in the 1960s I used to see newspaper ads, probably in the Sunday Express.
I’ve no idea why that line made an impression on me. Thanks to the internet, I found several versions of it in archives. This one is from the Palacios Beacon.
They ask us to cite the edition thus: “Dismukes, Jesse V. Palacios Beacon (Palacios, Tex.), Vol. 59, No. 10, Ed. 1 Thursday, March 10, 1966, newspaper, March 10, 1966; Palacios, Texas. (accessed March 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History; crediting Palacios Library.” So that’s that taken care of!
It crept into my mind today – about my hindsight. My first draft is:
I think it needs work. Does it ring any bells with you, though, with your own life?
Back in 1998, deep in a new version of hindsight, I was struggling to come to terms with what was then 33 years of my own idiocy. I can call it ‘my idiocy‘ because I haven’t called myself an idiot. I am looking at my behaviour, instead. My behaviour was idiocy. Un-embellished idiocy.
Nutshell description of my idiocy: Age 13, 1965, fell in love, never told the person I loved. Waited for them to realise they were loved and to love me back. Saw them last, in 1970. Love may, or may not, have been known about by them but not returned. Set them on a pedestal until way past 1998. Blamed their lack of knowing, what they could not know, for all the failings in my own life.
So, unrequited love, then. Not unusual. Loads of folk have it. Loads of folk get through it. But I am obsessive over stuff. This is 2017 and I’m still writing about it! Oh, the person I fell for was another boy, my age. And it was illegal in 1965. In 1967, it because lawful for those over 21, with many other restrictions. There are loads of other people I can blame when refusing to blame myself. If only they had done this, then I coulda done that and we woulda been happy together. I shoulda made it my business to… and so it goes, the internal hindsight dialogue.
I’m at a very real risk of rambling.
Rambling… it’s to avoid acknowledging that I was the one who screwed myself up, no one else, that’s the rambling. I haven’t even acknowledged it in that last sentence. See how carefully I avoided doing it?
What I have done, after a good wallow in self-pity during the ‘I am not having a breakdown years’ is to work on strategies for changing the way I look at my past. For me there are three foundation stones:
- Talk to willing strangers about it. This is probably not folk you meet in the park, though there is no reason why not.
- Start to unlearn the out of focus aspects and replace those with reality.
- Write it out for myself or for public consumption.
For me, the first was helped by the anonymity of the internet. Look, it isn’t 100% anonymous; malefactors can be tracked down, but you aren’t a malefactor, are you? I used online forums, emailed some of the forum participants, used instant messaging software, and talked about my issues. Sometimes folk offered advice. When they did I listened, assessed their advice and accepted, or rejected, it with a good heart. It was advice, not a set of instructions.
The second involved realising that I have been wrong about things that I believed affected me. Or I have been wrong about my actions at the time. It’s not so bad, being wrong, because I started out knowing that I might have been wrong. I do over analyse, though. I know I do, so I chose deliberately to try to avoid it.
I know I was wrong to adore another lad and not tell him so at the time and I know that telling him so would have been hard, but wise. I wasn’t wrong to adore him. Love is fine. I was wrong to adore him in isolation and to hug it to myself as a ‘wonderful’ secret, rather than giving him the chance to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ and giving the embryo but unlikely relationship a chance to succeed, or, more likely, to fall at the first hurdle. That led me, in 2009, to this:
(If you are reading this on a ‘device’ you may not have been able to see that so go to Letter to Myself at 16.)
So, that was a step on the way. Quite a solid, step, too.
The third area was to write. I can write. So, I wrote, in around 2010, the diary of my teenage years, (pretty) accurately. I wonder about real publishing for it. I wrote it for me. I wrote it to learn by reliving what were not pleasant emotions what those emotions really were.
I wrote it full of woulda, coulda, shoulda, feeling them all. I found it was rather liked reading Tess of the d’Ubervilles and screaming at her not to turn that way at the station, and never to go into the wurzel field. If only she’d not done this, then that would not have happened. It took me a year to write, based on diligent research, and school historical paraphernalia, and that year was worth it. I learned (at the end) that I may have loved him, but that I actually didn’t like him.
I write here, too…
as the mood takes me. Bob publishes much of what I write because he sees elements that may help others who are in pain and he publishes it to encourage you to write things too, whether you let him see them or not! I don’t think I write advice but you can interpret it as advice if you want. If you do, examine it carefully; it may not suit you. If we all suffer from hindsight (the coulda, woulda, shoulda little voices), maybe we all could do with getting control of what really happened?
In 2017, I’m a bit of the way there now and it hasn’t taken me since 1965. I started to work on it in May 2001. I traced my adored ‘lad’, and asked his kindness to help me gain closure. He wasn’t interested in the idea. Now, here’s a thing.
“If he’d agreed to meet, and talk, then I woulda been able to get this into perspective in 2001. He shoulda done that.”
There is a grain of truth in it, there always is. But who was responsible for my being able to put matters into perspective? Wasn’t him. It’s the bloke typing this.
I added several years of believing that he owed me something to help my suffering. He owes me nothing. He’s a decent man; he was a decent boy. “But if only he’d…. then I coulda….” And yes, I coulda, but he didna, so there wasna anything to be done. And it was my fantasy romance anyway, not his.
If my self-reflection had been less fuzzy, less out of focus, I would have been (not woulda!) able to rationalise the whole self-created, self-inflicted mess way earlier. That would have gained me several(!) years of contentment.
This brings me to you. Do you dare write a letter to your 16-year-old self? If you dare, will you make it as though the extra knowledge could change that girl, that boy, and the way they approach your life?
If you dare, do you dare show us, maybe in the comments, maybe as a post? I’ve not asked Bob whether he’ll publish things, like this, if you send them to him. I suspect his rule will be “If I think it can help someone, not just you.” but that’s me pretending to speak for him!
Go on, have a crack at it. What do you wish you’d known at 16 to guide you in your life today? I challenge you! Oh, that line. I think this may be more like it for me today: