16 April 2010

When Was The Past?

I must admit:  Today I didn't do much besides my laundry and cleaning.  It seems that I spend more and more of my days off recovering from work.  I went to bed and woke up late, and it started to the day's intermittent rain began not long after I had my cup of tea.  So I didn't have much incentive to go out, especially since Bruce was too sick to do lunch, as we had planned.

I don't know whether it has to do with  my gender change, or simply getting older (or sober)--or, for that matter, whether it has to do with anything at all--but "back in the day" Bruce and I would drink together.  Now we do lunch.  If you want to take that as a dissertation topic, be my guest. All I know is that one of the reasons why we're still friends is that we were able to make that transition from drinking buddies to friends who share lunch.

Lately I find myself thinking more and more about my previous expereinces, rather than merely my past.  What is the difference between them?  It seems that I don't learn much from the past.  Then again, most people don't, or so it seems.  On the other hand, experiences (as opposed to Experience with a capital E) are really the only teachers we have.  Or so it seems to me.

The past is always a sort of grab bag or potpourri.  There are some treasures in it, but there are also things that lose their relevance and usefulness.  Those things might outlive their obsolescence, but only because someone holds on to, and perpetuates, them--sometimes unconsciously.  I know I've done plenty of that.

Some of those things that lose their pertinence are the reactions to, or other ways of coping with,  things we may have experienced at one time but do not not encounter now.  I think now of so much of the anger I used to carry with me.  It helped me to survive, among other things, sexual molestation and attacks.  I may very well not be alive now were it not for the rage that roiled in me for so long.

But what happens when all you have are survival skills and you're in a situation when your survival is more certain but all you have are those survival mechanisms and responses?    That sounds like a script for becoming one of those perpetually angry people you run into sometimes.  I guess that's how manipulative people become manipulative, too.   Some of those people may have grown up in--much as it pains me to use this term--dysfunctional homes or other situations.  

In other words, they are living in their pasts.  And, for them, the present is nothing but an endless repetition of the past.  They have never learned any new ways of responding to new people and situations. Instead, they yell and throw tantrums because they came from homes where everybody did that and therefore learned no other way of getting what they want.  Or they knew they could get what they wanted by sneaking around people, and they think that nobody means what he or she says; when someone says "no," there's always a way around it.  I've had more than a few students who were like that:  They didn't believe that a professor would actually drop them from his or her class, or that they would fail, for not attending classes and doing assignments.

What people in situations very often don't realize is that whoever called their bluff or wouldn't negotiate with them may actually have something to offer that they want and could never have found in their pasts.  I think now of a time when I was upset with a class full of freshmen.  They had been a good group of young people until the day we had a library information session.  The librarian who conducted the session has rubbed more than a few people the wrong way, so I could understand why they didn't like the way she talked to them.  However, I pointed out, that is no reason to be disrespectful. 

When I paused one wide-eyed young woman exclaimed, "Wow!  You weren't yelling at us. You didn't raise your voice at all."

At that moment, I would have loved to have known what her home life or previous schooling were like.  What was interesting was that after that day, she regularly came to talk to me about situations she'd encountered in the college, her boyfriend and any number of other dilemmas a young person faces. Along the way, I could see her becoming more confident about herself.

I get the feeling that I'm going through a similar process myself.  That's one reason why I think of a change in workplace scenery.  I realize that I'm in a place where I react to dysfunction rather than respond to appeals to reason and sensibility as well as sensitivity.  That's not how I want to spend my life.  I now realize that, for me,  living in the past in such a way is not a cause of, or recipe for, depression:  It is depression.  Trust me on that one:  By every clinical and medical definition, I was depressed for the majority of my life before I started my transition.

And the remedy for that is not to live in this moment, or any that will follow, as if it were the past.  In a way, I can't, anyway, because when I think about it, that past wasn't really mine.  Only my experiences were.  It seems that a good part of living involves knowing which ones are useful.  And the ones that aren't have to be gotten rid of like those undergarments I no longer had use for after my surgery.


Herzog said...

Ughh, I feel like recovering from work is all I do these days. Thankfully, it usually involves a bike.

I don't know if I can learn anything from my past no I feel like I do, but then the future always turns out to be so different from it that I can't really apply those lessons.

Velouria said...

Justine, did you keep a diary or journal "back in the day"? If so, was the narrative voice and style radically different from the way it is now, or consistent?

As for a change of scenery, I am all for it. I picture you in a small college somewhere in upstate NY or in New England, teaching Liberal Arts courses and doing lots of cycling.

Justine Valinotti said...

Herzog: It's true that the future usually turns out to be very different from the past, or at least from what we anticipated. Perhaps we can't apply the lessons. As an example, when you learn to defend yourself against one particular kind of crazy or malicious person, another person with different issues or baggage or whatever you want to call it enters your life. And what you learned may not be applicable, as you point out. It reminds me of the saying that the generals are always fighting the last war.

Velouria: I did indeed keep a diary "back in the day." My voice in it was different in part because I was younger, but also because, really, it wasn't really my own: I was imitating, echoing and sometimes plagiarizing other people's feelings as well as their ideas and styles. I'm not so sure that the change in my voice has as much to do with male vs. female as simply finding myself, however slowly and inelegantly.

I have often thought of what it might be like to live in New England or upstate. In those areas are cities and towns that are relatively urbane but a bit more idyllic than where I am now. (Plus, autumn is wonderful in those areas.)As much as I enjoy the cultural opportunities and conveniences the city offers, I'm not so sure that I want to spend the rest of my life in a big city, or at least in New York.