Our Younger Selves


Janus1Our theme this month is minimalism.  Years ago we wrote six-word autobiographies; this week, we will be writing two-word letters to our younger selves.

We are thrilled to welcome Carrie Snyder as our guest for the next two weeks.  She is our inspiration for our 2015 year of the word posts, which will appear next week.

Carrie Snyder is a mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, teacher, photographer, blogger.  She is the author of three books of fiction, most recently Girl Runner, published this fall in Canada and coming this winter to the US, the UK and Australia.  She looks for the light and embraces the transitional moments: winter solstice is one of her favourite days of the year.

(Carrie’s Girl Runner was one of our favourite books of the year.  You can see my review here.)

And here, because it is small and brilliant, is an excerpt from a short story by Ali Smith, in which the middle-aged narrator’s 14-year-old self suddenly appears in her house.

I love this story for its maternal energy.  I love how it tells us that even though we may have thought we’d be terminally cool parents, we can’t even be cool in the eyes of our 14-year-old selves.  I love its surety that we can never know our children or ourselves, not really.  I love how it tells us about going back and how we can never go back.  I love its spectacular failure and its spectacular success.  I love the details and the universality.  I love that it is Janus-faced, and that it fits neatly into these last days of December, as we say a goodbye to the old year and prepare a greeting for the new year.

I sit my fourteen-year-old self down opposite me at the table in the lounge so that we can have a conversation, because all she’s done so far, the whole time she’s been here in my house, is ignore me, stare balefully at a spot just above my head, or look me in the eye then look away from me as if I’m the most boring person on the planet. … I want to say: look, aren’t you amazed I ever even managed to buy a house?  Don’t you like how full of books it is?  You like books.  You don’t have to pretend you’re not clever to me.  I know you are.  I’d have loved the idea of a house full of books like this when I was your age.

Was I really going to say that: when I was your age?  Would I really have found myself saying that appalling phrase out loud?

There are quite a few things, though, that I do want to say to her. …  I want to say: your exams come out fine all the way down the line.  You’ll do all right at university.  You’ll have a really good time.  …  You don’t have to get off with someone in Fresher’s Week, it’s not necessary, it’s not important.

I want to tell her who to trust and who not to trust; who her real good friends are and who’s going to fuck her over; who to sleep with and who definitely not to.  …  Don’t, by the way, vote Labour in 1997; it’s like a vote for the Tories.  No really.  And when you’re twenty-two and you go for the sales job in the middle of  Edinburgh and you’re backing the Citroen down the road where the Greyfriar’s Bobby statue is, don’t back it so far, just go careful on the clutch, don’t panic….

But I look at her sitting there, thin and insolent and complete, and I can’t say any of it.  It’d be terrible to proffer a friend she hasn’t met yet who then turns out not to be a friend, or a left wing government that turns out not to be.  Terrible to tell her, now, about a crushed mudguard one afternoon in 1984.  It’s somehow terrible even to suggest she’ll go to university.

You need to eat more, I say instead.

From “Writ” by Ali Smith



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