What I Wish I Knew When I Was 36

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This bit of writing was inspired by my recent reading of a book entitled What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. It was a surprisingly good book and it convinced me that I should try to come up with some lessons for myself.

Actually, many of the short essays in this book involve me confronting a younger self. It's strange offering this youngster advice. Why? Because he is wiser than me, stronger than me, harder working than me...he has more hustle...he has energy.

I think the better option would be to look to a future self, a self that exists 14 years from now (my 50-year-old self) and let that person try to teach my current self some lessons.

This older self has very noticeable bald spots. His midsection bulges in a way that makes him look like an Italian gangster or a postmodern Buddha. He may or may not still be wearing the same clothes I wear now. (My future self, like my current self, is too cheap to buy new clothes.)

What would this older version of myself tell me?

He starts off by giving me the first and only rule of time travel: "I can't give you information about the future. I can only try to pass down wisdom. Sorry, no stock tips!" Then he lets out a hefty, used-car-salesman type of laugh.

(Apparently, this used-car salesman laugh is very fashionable in the future...even somewhat hipster.)

He knows he's being unbelievably cruel. He knows he's borderline wasting my time, but what the hell! At the very least, I might get to rub his 50-year-old belly at the end for good luck.

The dilemma is still...Do you go to the river to drink?

One of my favorite scenes in a novel comes from Haruki Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. An old soldier is telling the main character that during his time in the war he was stationed by a river along the Russian border. He and his fellow soldiers hid along the river -- often dying slowly of thirst -- with Russian snipers waiting for them to go to the river to get a drink. Eventually, some solider would get so thirsty that he would go to the river...and then, predictably, the sniper would pick him off.

"When you get so thirsty you need to go to the river to drink, the thing to do is to stay put," the old soldier tells the main character.

But there would inevitably come a point for every man when he became so thirsty that he wouldn't care whether the sniper killed him. He had to go to the river to drink.

I have found this simple scene to explain almost every dilemma in my life, especially the ones that have to do with writing.

*To self-publish or not to self-publish.

*To publish now or to wait one more draft.

Of course it goes beyond publishing.

*To punch the a-hole boss or not to punch him (You get thirsty...really thirsty. The thing to do is stay put; but can you?)

*To plod through a boring and unfulfilling job or to quit.

"So, 36-year-old self, will you stay put or will you go to the river to drink?"

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