I was walking Reggie in the early evening darkness when I saw the faint outline of my neighbor approaching. I’d been hoping to run into her. I had to ask if it was her name listed in the credits of a popular literature webisode. She has an unusual name, which nearly jumped off the screen when I saw it scroll by. We chatted for a few minutes while Reggie sniffed her baby’s feet. (He loves baby feet and will try to lick them if left to his own devices.) She said she was indeed one of the writers for the series, aimed at high school and college students. And, well, the rest of the embarrassing conversation played out something like this:
Me: The clips are so well written. It must be hard to boil Hamlet down to a ten-minute segment. And make it funny. How did you get this gig?
Neighbor: A friend works on the series and suggested I would be a good fit. I used to write sketch comedy and I have a PhD in comparative literature. When else could I use both of those in the same job?
Me: It’s like a Venn diagram of probability. I have a Master’s in creative writing and…
The rest of the conversation was a bit of a blur. Luckily, she didn’t seem put off. Did I really try to impress her with my measly MFA? The degree I only talk about under duress, lest I invoke PTSD flashbacks? Why on earth would I try to one-up her?
This is not the first time (and, sadly, probably not the last) I’ve wanted to turn back the last thirty seconds, gobble up my words, and replace them with something less obnoxious. I know I’m not alone. I recently read that 9 percent of Americans are dreaming of time travel. NPR went a step further and took the question to the streets: Why?
While some people would like to go back in time to change a terrible event (“I’d kill Hitler,” several respondents said), most people were like me and would want to fix something personal.
Interviewer: Well, wait. Hang on a second though. You’re only 11.
Girl: Yeah. I’ve got a lot of things I want to change.
A fair number of respondents (older than 11, I presume) would want to go back to advise their younger selves. “Don’t let that opportunity get away.” “Whatever you do, don’t take that job,” “You’ll want to get your MFA…just go to the gym until the feeling passes.”
Another girl recognized that this could be dangerous. “I mean, I’d love to do it. And I’m sure everyone would love to go back in time and change some things. But it’d ruin things a bit too. Well, experiences that people might not call experiences, people might call mistakes. Even though at that time, they make you sad, if you go back and change everything like that, then you don’t learn. So you’re sad more often.”
There’s a desire to “fix” the past, right wrongs, and erase mistakes with the advantage of hindsight that only comes with having made the mistake in the first place. Although Marty McFly tried not to disturb the events of the past, it’s natural to want to change things that we said or did, be they minor gaffs or life-changing fiascos. What we really want to do is mitigate regret.
Each one of these regrets is a lesson on what to do next time. Maybe that is a kind of time travel—into the future. Can someone get me a DeLorean?
Would you time travel if you could?
Have a great weekend, everyone!