The desire to go back and redo some, if not all, of one’s life is a feeling that seems to emerge often when reminiscing about the past. This whimsical desire can only lead to disappointment, since we are constantly stuck in the present with only the future ahead of us. Yet, I believe it is worth thinking about why we return to wanting that which we cannot have.
I recently finished reading Leslie Feinberg’s queer classic Stone Butch Blues. In this book, the main character, Jess, deals with feelings of trying to navigate one’s life without guides, at one point saying it felt like they were “relying on constellations that were not fixed.”
This image of guiding one’s life by shifting constellations has stuck with me. I think this especially speaks to gender non-conforming people and people who fall outside of normative assumptions held by society more broadly.
The guide-points for what a “good life” is supposed to look like might not work for many people, and thus they must find other stars to guide themselves by, travelling down lesser worn paths that have different, or less-certain guiding points.
Making mistakes along the way is one of the biggest ways people learn. In our present time, with social media, every step along the way is being archived.
It can be hard to forgive oneself for the difficult, but necessary, moments of learning which we all undergo. With all these moments captured online, it sometimes feels less like a sequence of change, but rather like all of one’s history is out on the table and able to be called back into the present moment. This archiving can act as a reminder of painful times at any moment.
This awareness and of the past can fuel a desire to go back redo one’s history. When everyone feels to some degree like a public figure online, with employers to family members able to find an individual’s social media account and dig through its history, there can be a desire to polish it to make one’s history seem immaculate and free from error.
While there is great pressure to do this, it conceals how messy learning can be, even removing guides for others to follow and learn from. I’ve seen some people online be asked to leave up comments or posts they made that were problematic or hurtful, even if, and especially when, that person was called out and genuinely changed their beliefs. This is actually quite brave, as leaving up an embarrassing moment can be a way for others to see the responses and learn from it.
In a world of constant change and uncertain futures, if there are no constellations left as guides, perhaps mistakes can function as points of learning to help guide others.
This is part of why turning to literature and narrative works so well for me; to see fictional characters stumble their ways through life and struggle through things that I can either identify or empathize with. Books can act as my own guide, creating new constellations to navigate my life by, or at least as a way of making the journey feel less lonely.
Jase Falk is a non-binary femme, student and writer who lives on Treaty 1 territory.