The One with Back to the Future

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?

[Laughter]

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.

Girl: If I could time travel, I’d go back and fix all the awful, awful mistakes I’d done. Because there’s so much stuff that you just think of, like when you’re lying in bed, you’re like, oh my God, that’s so embarrassing.

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.”

back to the future

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! 

 

 

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34 comments

  1. You really got me where I live this time, Jackie. Time travel is a bit of an obsession with me in my writing (and life). I’d not seen this NPR piece and I will definitely be listening. I would love to travel forward or backward in time so sign me up for the next DeLorean rental. (P.S. we have this in common… I have a prize-winning literary neighbor who I’ve always wanted to “run into,” and I recently reached out to her and “the rest of the conversation was a bit of a blur,” exactly.)

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    1. Where we’re going, Julia, we don’t need roads. LOL

      I was thinking that maybe the reason I enjoy historical fiction so much has to do with time travel. In a way, it’s like going back in time.

      Most of the NPR interviewees did not wan to travel to the future. Too scary. 🙂

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  2. Good post and a very “elegant” question; the answers elicit more than a few interesting “What Ifs”. If I could time travel into the past, I don’t think I would change anything — the temptation would certainly be there but I think I would resist. After all, if not for the mistakes, the experiences, of the past I wouldn’t be who I am today (and neither would those affected by those “experiences”. What I would like to know is (knowing what I know now) was the life I remember really as bad (or good) as I remember it being?

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    1. Good point. I imagine that if we erased or changed the outcome of certain life events, it could change the trajectory of our lives. As you pointed out, “if not for the mistakes, the experiences, of the past I wouldn’t be who I am today.” There could be far-reaching ramifications, but fun to think about.

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  3. We are always so much harder on ourselves than we are on others, aren’t we? I doubt if your neighbor took your enthusiasm as one-upmanship; probably she simply thought you were excited that the two of you have writing in common. Still I know what you mean. It’s a little like meeting a favorite author at her book signing, and confessing that you write too, then regaling her with the plot of your unpublished novel. I’m always afraid I will do that. So much so that I tend to not say anything in those situations. lol

    It would be so nice to be able to go back and change some things. Not everything, but maybe the really big awkward stuff that keeps one awake for weeks after – those I would certainly like to change!

    Have a great weekend, Jackie. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “It’s a little like meeting a favorite author at her book signing, and confessing that you write too, then regaling her with the plot of your unpublished novel.”
      Yes, I know what you mean, Cynthia. Unfortunately, I’ve done this before. Sigh… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember reading a Sartre play in high school and it was about second chances, re-do your life and the characters made the exact same mistakes. A depressing thought. I have a few mini-moments like the one you mention I would like to undo. Travelling to the distant past – yes, that would be great.

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  5. I totally agree with Cynthia. Usually the other person doesn’t notice.
    However, it would be nice to press the delete button sometimes. Instead we just have to let it go, as there is probably another embarrassing situation waiting around the corner 😉

    Have a peaceful weekend.

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  6. I think it is human nature to want to hit the rewind button to redo the SNAFU moments in one’s life, but time traveling, if it were possible, would create quite a ripple effect on a global scale. Tomorrow is the 51st anniversary of JFK’s death. What might the world be like today if that never happened? I get it that you’re not thinking about big history event changes. If I could have a redo over on a personal level, I would make sure that the email I wrote to my sister eleven years ago at this time where venting my guts out about my then-gf, was emailed to my sister. Instead, in my lather, I sent it to my then-gf. That was a monumental SNAFU.

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    1. I agree with everyone here who thinks that your exchange with your neighbor was not bad. Hey, who’s to say she has not had that type of exchange with a writer she admired before she got her break? It’s very possible that she’s cut you slack. Plus, who can possibly think ill of anyone with a friendly baby-foot-sniffing pooch like Reggie?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Ooh, yep, that hurts. That would be a good do-over.
      Some of the respondents to the original PEW survey said that they’d like to go back in time to alter world events. Of course they always appeared as the hero of the story. 🙂 They never go back in time to find themselves as Oswald or John Wilkes Booth.

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  7. I think the big thing for me if I could go back is I would know not to be so afraid of things…that I could relax and enjoy the ride more and not be such a stress monkey. and also maybe take back unkind words I have said. Sigh.

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  8. Oh, good question. I’d like to go back in time and have in-depth conversations with my parents. I thought I’d have more time with them.
    I agree that we learn from mistakes, but I’ve put my foot in my mouth more times than I’d like.

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    1. That’s a great answer, Carole. I’d love to ask my grandparents things that I was too short-sighted to ask when I was a kid.
      One of the respondents in the survey said that if she could travel back in time, she’d go back to the last conversation she had with her husband before he passed away and make it something more meaningful. Instead they’d argued about Tupperware. 😛

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  9. I’d love to time travel! My first novel is all about time travel (sorry, just snuck that in there…) It would be amazing to visit different times in history – not to change anything but just to experience it (although, I imagine most periods were pretty stinky!)

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      1. Not published yet, still on the final edit! It’s a children’s book about a couple of sisters who discover their dad is a time agent and is lost in time. So they enrol at time travel school in order to save him…will they get there in time???! 🙂

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  10. Late to the conversation here, but what a great one it is, Jackie! Like you, I’m very interested in historical fiction these days. Though it should come as no surprise, as I recall – growing up and being completely enthralled by Little House on the Prairie – always wanting to live in the ‘olden days.’ Life seemed so much more difficult, yet simpler — like we “got” what living was all about. It was about survival and truly embracing the little things. So yes, I’d time travel to the 1800s, I think (and see if I could be as tough as those pioneer women — heck, women all over the globe, fighting for their place and respect). I must be crazy.

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    1. I agree — it would be so interesting to experience the a taste of what the pioneers experienced. But I’m only going if you’re there. If anyone could survive what the 1800s frontier had to dish out, it would be you Melissa. 🙂

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  11. I’d say that I would go back and maybe not procrastinate so much, but whats’ the saying…If it wasn’t for last minute nothing would get done? I know that I have done some of my best work under pressure (and now I have that damn song in my head). It’s like my brain gets excited when the storm brews up all the thoughts! I try to live with no regrets and see the bright side in what could be looked at as negative-for instance- I was in a car wreck when I was first started driving due to being young, distracted, and following too close. Thankfully everything turned out ok (besides a wrecked vehicle)…but I decided about a year later (after letting it eat away at me for quite some time, like most teens) to see it positively and I still can look at it that way. I have had no accidents since (knock on wood) and I believe that that was the wake-up call or slap in that face I needed at that time. It seemed to remind me that I am not invincible and life has consequences that we cannot always see.

    To FINALLY answer the question. I would time travel back 100 years at a time all over the world. Hangout with the founding fathers, see Austen’s england, take a peek at the crusades, see the building of the pyramids, observe the Picts, follow the gypsies. See if the Highland warriors were as badass as they are written(I’m definitely a HUGE historical fiction fan). Find out who is right on evolution…I would love to see cavemen, mammoths and sabertooth tigers, and if I am going there then I of course would live out the childhood dream of walking with the dinosaurs.

    And so much more.

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    1. Oh, I just loved your answer, Jenna. What a great idea to go back in time in 100-year increments. You’d really get to see how society shifted and progressed.

      You mentioned the Highlands… are you a fan of the Outlander series? 🙂

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      1. I am on book number 4! I was late to the game, but I did start reading before the television series was decided so I feel like it’s not so bad.
        As much as I love how much publicity this gives an author and book reading I always feel better when I discover them first…weird? (On the flip side I hate when the film tears a beautiful book to shreds)
        But one of my best friends and I have been planning a trip to Scotland for our 30th! So we will hopefully be there this time next year 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. A friend told me that the Outlanders series was published in the `90s and only sold modestly until someone decided to make the television series. I’m happy for the author! I haven’t seen the series since I don’t have that channel, but I’ll definitely look for it on DVD.

        I hope you get to visit all the places from the book. I bet someone has developed an “Outlanders Tour!” 🙂

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