I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I regret everything, except as a joke (and you know there’s a bit of truth in every joke) , but I do wonder about all the decisions I ever made. I dream about the alternate realities that would have been if I had made different choices.
I think, what if I had chosen to go to the High School of Performing Arts for acting, instead of the High School of Music and Art for music? What if I had remained a lit major at Bard College? What if I had stayed at Bard and actually graduated there, as a lit major, or even a math major? What if I had not quit the band I was in, in order to be the Treasurer of student government? What if, when I left, I decided to resume my music career and applied to Berkeley school of Music, instead of Hunter College where I studied accounting? What if I had committed to being a writer come hell or high water, and had never become an accountant? What if I had saved money from the moment I started working and could retire now? What if I bought a condo in NYC, where real estate has skyrocketed and stayed there instead of moving south? What if I had moved to California and pursued a screenwriting career? What if, when I got to pitch to Star Trek DS9, I had quit my job and dedicated myself to getting into that door? What if I had committed myself to politics, and dedicated my live to causes that I really care about?
What if I had not been so shy and had explored the possibilities of relationships with any of the girls who ever liked me and had gotten married to some other girl, or other girl, or other girl? Or what if I had just had more sex when I was younger? How would that have affected my confidence? What if I had said, “what are we doing here?” to someone instead of always trying to figure it out on my own? A simple enough question. What if it wasn’t so hard for me to be conceited enough to think that someone could even like me, so that when I did try to figure it out on my own, I would have come to a more self-complementary conclusion? What if after I married my wife I had pushed back more on some of our differences, like saving money, or in how we raised our kids? Would we have been stronger or would it have driven us apart? Would we have lived in the same house, or lived somewhere else?
What if I had found a way to live in another country, and actually learned another language? What if I had not volunteered to go back to work when I was the stay at home dad?
I have answers to most of these questions. I carry these thoughts out to their logical and imaginative conclusions. I try to be realistic, at least after the initial reveries that include success and riches and, most importantly, happiness. I temper the fantasy with some logic, like “relationships are hard no matter what,” and “no one was going to save me from myself,” and “I could have been hit by a bus in that alternate reality.” But more importantly, I know that mistakes are a necessary part of the journey, because they teach you what you need to know. If you’re not self-aware enough to make good decisions, then you have to learn the hard way. We’re here to learn what we don’t know! But what if I was self-aware enough? What if I kept a journal more consistently and became more self-aware in time to act on that knowledge?
For the most part when I imagine these other lives that I could have had, they turn out great. But they’re not just great because I’m a screenwriter or because I know another language, or because I got to change the world. They’re great because the type of person I would have had to be to take initiative, would have been happier no matter what path I followed. It’s not about what path, but who I am. So, what if I could have been someone else?
Is it healthy to indulge regret, to second think everything, to delve into the inevitable depression that surfaces from these attempts to understand that I made mistakes? I’m not really living in the moment am I? OK, no. But that’s not the point. Because unlike the decisions I second guess, this is not a choice. Yes, I would be happy if I believed that I am always where I’m meant to be. If I were to act as if I woke up today in someone else’s body, as if the person who got us here was someone else, and in many ways he was, then I could be happier. A clean slate. No regrets.
But It’s futile. Because I can’t do that. If I am to accept anything, I should accept that. This is the burden of having an imagination that I appreciate and value though it has it’s downsides. If I am to be happy, I have to make that imagination work for me. Because there are upsides too. For one, I can use this imagination for good. How, I don’t know. I just can. I believe it’s a good thing. I could write something, like that people read, Something like that. For two, I can learn from my mistakes (Miles Davis said there are none) to be who I want to be.. later.
All kidding aside, what anchors me to this place is my kids. No matter what else I might wish I had done, no matter what choices I could have made, no matter what I consider to have been a mistake, given the circumstances at the time, no matter what course might have led to a more blissful existence in ignorance of what otherwise would have been, I would hate for my kids to be any different than they are. Whatever comedy of errors got them here, I wouldn’t actually take any of them back.
That’s irony. I’ve spent my entire life, practically, wishing I had done this or that differently. I dream of finding myself in my younger body and getting another chance, do overs, to do everything better, different, and more in line with what I planned all along. But if somehow the opportunity was offered to me, by some fantastical and unrealistic science fiction, I would have to decline. Because I am anchored. But they don’t anchor my mind. I can dream. I can think. I can understand. At least I hope I can understand.