Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Retrospective Gift

I have entered my own personal Hot Tub Time Machine. Only without the hot tub. Or actual time travel. So maybe it's more like I am inordinately excited about the upcoming Hot Tub Time Machine movie and cannot stop saying the title over and over in my head and have therefore made one too many parallels between the plot and my own life.

However, here is what led me to the conclusion that I have dipped into a bubbly vat of existential warp:

1. The gym where I train moved to the exact location of the office of the teaching program I joined almost seven years ago.

2. Over the course of last weekend, I did enough phone interviews for said teaching program to completely revisit all teaching phobias accrued almost seven years ago.

3. M and I are moving in together on May 1st, and have been looking at apartments, most of which look like or are situated in or remind me of places where I have lived before during my almost seven years in Chicago.

I mean, these are weird, right? Well, the first one is definitely weird, but the other two happening at the same time makes it all a little eery. The difference between this convergence of events and the plot of Hot Tub Time Machine is that I cannot do anything about my life of seven years ago. I am just visiting. But, if I could change anything, here are the top ten things I would change about me, circa 2003:

10. My hair. (My hairdresser at the time cut it crookedly and it was short to begin with so I ended up with an unfortunately biased bob.)

9. My eating habits. (A diet of peanut butter and Baked Cheddar and Sour Cream Lays does not make for a happy body.)

8. My clothes. (If there's anything I have learned from What Not to Wear and a zero balance in my checking account, it's dress the body you have now and spend money on classic clothes when you have it so your wardrobe will last when you don't.)

7. My relationships. (Not that I had a lot of time to give to this while living and breathing teaching, but I certainly did not do myself any favors here. Drama begets drama.)

6. My e-mail habits. (A routine of procrastination and lame excuses does not make for happy friends.)

5. My confidence. (Delirious idealism is not the same as belief in your own self-worth.)

4. My extra-curricular activities. (Why was I not taking classes like French conversation or drawing?)

3. My social skills. (2003 was the only year I can remember when I was mean to everyone I came into contact with - Starbucks baristas, Borders employees, grocery store cashiers. I was unhappy and took it out EVERYWHERE.)

2. My initiative. (It took me several years to figure out that you have to call people to keep them in your life and not just wait for them to call you. And then get mad at them for not calling.)

1. My presents. (I am mostly sure that I gave terrible presents in 2003. I know I didn't send Valentines or get any birthday presents out on time. I couldn't keep anything in my head.)

I am predicting that the end of Hot Tub Time Machine will come to the same conclusion I do when looking at this list - that if you didn't go through the difficult or desperate or awkward times, you would never learn anything to make yourself better. I wouldn't have this list if I didn't have the original 2003. And really, as much as things were difficult or desperate or awkward seven years ago, revisiting the past this week made me a little homesick for when things were new in Chicago. And then I remember the list.

I also know that the 2003 me would look at the 2009/2010 me and still be jealous of that life. And I can't blame her. Hot tub or no hot tub, I am much happier now than I was seven years ago. Case in point, I talk to strangers all the time. Starbucks baristas, Borders employees and grocery store cashiers. Yesterday, the Jewel cashier gave me the coupon I was missing to get the buy one get one free special, and it was totally because I was nice and chatting him up before I realized you needed an additional ticket to score the freebie. While buying my brother's Christmas gift this year, I befriended a Best Buy floor manager to ask which camcorder was the best bet.

My brother, as mentioned before, is studying musical theater, and as such, needs to continually review his own progress. Memorizing lines, practicing monologues, working on dance sequences - these are all things best seen via an objective lens. I decided he could use a video camera to tape rehearsals and his own private practices. But I couldn't afford the Flip. So, at Best Buy, laden with the ever-present computer bag and fourteen layers of winter wear, I found myself looking homeless and sweaty in the electronics department. No one approached me to ask if I needed help. I think they were secretly hoping I wouldn't steal anything and leave within minutes. Instead, I sat on the ground and piled boxes of camcorders around me and studied their labels. Eventually, I spied a very nice, young Best Buy-ite who did not run away from me like I had fleas.

Because my brother would be taping segments at length, and not just for short YouTube clips, she recommended the version I had seen initially. Better battery length, able to attach to a tripod or set on a shelf, automatic playback, steady quality and good sound. These are all qualities I stupidly hadn't thought of. I was looking for a video camera, solely on the merit of being able to record video. And this is why places like Best Buy have actual employees. And this is why you should be nice to them and ask them questions. Not resent them for having a job that does not involve screaming children and constant insults. It seems I have in fact learned a lot in my seven years in Chicago. One of which is how to successfully buy electronics as gifts. I told my brother that with this gift, I expect to see samples of his recent work. I haven't seen any yet. But he did send me a random, unrelated YouTube clip. Enjoy!

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