Friday, March 01, 2013

Looking back at our shadow selves ...

Today's post is a page from the Time Traveler book I contributed to the Sketchbook Project back in 2012. I was thinking the other day about how long an idea can stay with you before it finally surfaces in the form of art and/or writing.

The first time I thought about shadow selves was about 30 years ago ... my 22-year-old self was having lunch with a group of friends in a hotel restaurant in the town I grew up in, but where I hadn't lived since I was 12. We'd driven 125 miles, from the town we all currently lived in, to consider renting a house together in this new location, and I hadn't told anyone that I'd once lived here.

Through the restaurant window I could see the elementary school my 8-year-old self had attended. Since it was lunch time, the school field was alive with active, noisy children playing games that probably hadn't changed much since I'd been out on that field myself. It was like looking back in time, and what came to mind was a particular sports day when (not being athletic) my 8-year-old self volunteered to help the teachers organizing and handing out ribbons and water and bandaids. I remembered the day very well, and at lunch time on that day, I'd been sitting at a table putting ribbons in order, facing the very restaurant my 22-year-old self would someday be sitting in.

And if that wasn't odd enough, my 12-year-old self had taken music lessons in one of the hotel meeting rooms, so now there were three of my shadow selves, all within easy reach of each other. Even at 22, my awareness of this overlapping of shadow selves made an impression on me.

The second time I thought about shadow selves was while traveling in New Brunswick in my mid-30's. I'd made a trip back east to meet my parents' families, and at one point was traveling by bus from one small town to another. I was dropped off at the pickup point (a gas station) to wait for a bus that might be along in anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. It was a pleasant sunny day, and the gas station had provided a comfy, sheltered bench outside for waiting passengers. I did what I always do in times like these ~ I took out my journal. I started writing about the people and places I'd seen so far, and a half hour later the bus came and I got on board. If there's one thing I learned 'back east', it's that hurry is not in the vocabulary. The bus was not in a hurry to get on the road ~ we were there for at least another half hour. In that time, other people arrived and boarded, and I continued writing. From my seat in the bus I could see the bench I'd been waiting on, and I saw myself there, on the bench writing, and I was now, on the bus writing. I was thinking how unlikely it was that I was there at all (so far from home in BC) about how insubstantial all these past selves are, and since I was writing, I wrote about it, mentioning not only that current experience, but looking back on my 22-year-old awareness of it as well.

Fast forward another 20 years, and in my journal I'm making page after page of notes for the Time Traveler project, realizing we all travel in time, we just do it one day at a time. And in every second we leave ghost imprints of ourselves wherever we go. I was thinking about this: where are we most solid and what does this tell us about ourselves? What can we learn from where my shadow selves have been? Can we go back there and relive our experiences in other times? Of course we can ...

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