“What did you do in your past life?”
When I first started at my previous job, in early 2005, that was the question people asked you, and that was the way they asked it. I liked it because it was weird. It was one of the many quirky things about this new safari I was on, working in a cubicle. I was only going to be there for three months, six months maximum, so it was all a fun little social experiment. Look at this weird place! Then years went by – a lot of years. The company gradually shifted to hiring almost exclusively from the pool of recent local college grads, and while surely all of them had just come from “past lives,” there was little point in asking the question.
Now that the nearly nine-year safari/social experiment has come to an end, I find myself looking back on that question. It was a good one not just because it was weird in a wonderfully self-aware way but because it touched upon a truth I didn’t quite understand back then – that all our lives, these days at least, contain within them multiple lives lived in multiple worlds. When we arrive someplace new, it could just be “different things happening now,” but more likely we’re experiencing the start of a new life, making whatever we were doing before our “past life”, likely but one of many. Even the near-decade in which my life revolved around a single southwestern New Hampshire town (“city”) and around a single place of employment and even, in many cases, around the same or similar cast of characters, there are at least four different lifetimes.
Look back on your own life and unless you’ve somehow managed a steady and long-lasting monotony (which isn’t easy, regardless of whether it’s advisable), you are likely to see the same thing. But so, all those years ago, what was the answer to that question? The simple answer was “College in Boston,” from which I had dropped out, but the real answer is, of course, quite complex. The years I spent from late 2002 to late 2004 clock in at around 28 months, but contained more significant events and more impactful characters than any other period of time in my life 28 months or shorter. It was a massive mainline infusion of life condensed by the gods and their fates into just over two short – or long – years.
I used to be a big fan of nostalgia, many years ago, as I romantically idealized certain aspects and people throughout my childhood. As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more ambivalent, but I’m arriving just now at a time in my life in which I am unable to avoid looking back – often fondly, often cringing, often with a devil’s smile – at that particular time period and the things that happened and how they unfolded and who was there and what it meant. I know damn well that blind nostalgia is dangerous. It can, if you aren’t careful, sap valuable energy needed for the present, and it often isn’t even honest. Reminiscing with a close friend very recently, I was confronted with the fact that I literally do not remember the worst things that happened back then. Whether I’ve “blocked them out,” as a psychoanalyst might say, or I “burned those brain cells away,” as I would have said back then, it doesn’t really matter. It’s true. So, no matter how raw and gritty I imagine my memories to be, I know they are at least slightly tainted. And then you get into the hairy issue of what’s historically accurate in terms of events that objectively happened and what’s true based on the subjective reality that was experienced and led forward. I’ve talked about things like that in the past, but I really don’t want to get into it today. There’s just no time.
The other thing, though, as I’ve personally been known to say off of this blog, as a private individual: The older you get, the more time you accumulate, the more difficult and exhausting nostalgia becomes. There are just too many memories, too many people who’ve come and gone, and the lessons, the harder you look at them, often take a turn toward the contradictory. So while I am writing this in part as a shoutout and a thank you to the people who were around during those years (though I remain unsure how many will ever even see this), this isn’t just an exercise in recollection. It’s the broader picture, and it’s dragged out into my line of sight by the mental nag I’m experiencing right now for my Boston days – my past life before I came to New Hampshire. As is fitting for the season – and, of course, as is in line with my solemn duties as Wizard – I spoke last week of the meaning of the harvest, of the present autumn before us being the result of the past seeds of the spring behind.
The seeds are a metaphor, obviously, because this isn’t a gardening blog. But it’s actually much bigger than that, treading into the territory that counts itself of the primary purpose of this blog. As I noted in Friday’s post, we’re over a year old now. That means it’s been over a year that we’ve been watching the year – actually something of which I am extremely proud, even though I have neglected thus far to do anything in the way of a celebration or commemoration. Naturally, being conscious of the changing of the year’s cycles and seasons isn’t something we do just once. It’s something we must strive to do every year, and with each year we hope to have a greater (and cumulative) understanding of the meaning the cosmos has sitting there for us to take. After five years – and I do intend to continue doing this for the next five years, and beyond, barring imprisonment or death – we’re going to have much more material (more even than the mathematical five times) than we do after just going around it together once. Nevertheless, we have something here. Without fully yet understanding it intuitively, we must surely be able to recognize that the year and its seasons are itself The Metaphor, the grand symbol for the whole of our existence. Everything in our life is comprised of cycles, of pendulum swings, of spirals. And the things that grow in our lives are always things that started off as seeds that we planted. And as I covered last week, sometimes we don’t know we’re planting anything, and sometimes we’re planting seeds without really having any clue at all what sort of crop we’re trying to grow and if that will bear any resemblance to what actually grows.
For me, at least, for my life, I planted a lot of very, very strong and valuable seeds between 2002 and 2004. Most of the time, I didn’t know I was planting anything. When I thought I was planting something, it always turned out that I had planted something else. I had far less of a clue in those days than I do now, and I’m still little more than a god damn novice. While there were eras (lifetimes?) within my “safari” in which I managed to swing ideologically and morally to nearly the exact opposite from where I had situated myself in this very specific and limited “past life,” I find myself having “come full circle,” if I may be permitted to use a cliche, and realizing that however clueless I may have been in those days, I actually knew exactly what the hell I was talking about. This isn’t merely the result of a personal rejection of the professional life stemming from the ongoing trauma of my termination, for I’d actually realized it about six months earlier than that. The realization, in fact, made me wonder how much longer I would actually be in the terminally extended social experiment I’d entered into so long before. I had a sneaking suspicion that such thoughts were born of an innate knowledge that a lifetime was about to end, and that the next one would be a return into a long-lost state of being, only this time armed with weapons of knowledge and scars of experience. In other words, the seeds that were planted between 2002 and 2004 had a major impact on who I am as a person, in my whole life. That was spring, and I was planting seeds, and I am still harvesting the fruit from those seeds today – some of them, in fact, are just beginning to bear fruit, and some have not yet begun to do so, but will. I went on a long journey away from those fields, and I had to walk that long and twisted road in order to find myself – as in every mythic tale – right back where I started. Right where the treasure had been hidden all along.
It’s made even more apparent by the manifestation in my present life, almost exclusively via the internet, of individuals I met during that time period. Many of them are the ones who have shaped the person I am as much as or more than any collection of events. We are naive to think that even the most individualistic of us are immune to the influences of others. Some of these people are still with me, and though we talk from afar they are among the most present and important people in my life. Our dialogue has continued, scarcely ever broken, for all that time. Then there are others with whom I have absolutely no connection beyond the usual stalking and photo/status-liking on Facebook, but have become larger than life. The seeds of their outsize and unusual personae grew into major archetypes in my mind, present as members of a debating council in my mind, with me always. Then there are still others, rarely those you would initially expect, who are absent for long stretches of years, and who reappear into the direct interaction of my life at what always seems precisely the “right” moment, with the right conversation or the right idea.
To all of these people in all of these categories, I extend my heartfelt gratitude. You turned out to be a big part of the stuff my life is made of. I don’t know what is coming next for me, but your influence is a big part of it. It would require me to ignore far too many facts to claim or suggest otherwise.
The message of the rant – and if you think it sucked, just let me have this one for me, even if it’s not for you – is that the seasons of the year are the seasons of our lives, only they are much more difficult to recognize and master on the larger scale. And while surely you can identify, as I can, key eras and aeons of your own life that held more impact than others, we must never forget that the lifetime we’re in today might carry more weight in the future than we can recognize right now. In terms of where we are in the planet, we can only exist in but one season at a time, but in terms of where we are in life, the lines are more blurry. We’re always harvesting seeds from way back…and we’re always planting new ones. People from the past will always haunt us like ghosts and angels, but people from the present are destined to do the same for our tomorrows.
Absolutely none of it is a straight line. Everything, on the other hand, takes the shape of a circle. For the last time – today, at least – happy Harvest. Salaam.