Michael Perry: Getting out of the way of the future

September 17, 2018
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Michael Perry

Today I spent several hours going through old videotapes of me wandering around my hometown and local countryside telling stories. There were entertaining moments (I had forgotten the sideburns!), wistful moments (shots of my old pickup truck back before the rear axle froze up), confusing moments (whatever happened to that green parka, the one that could have doubled as a car cover and smelled of mice, rubber, and the 1970s?), bewildering moments (entire stretches of dialogue — conceived, written, and delivered by me — of which I had no memory at all), and a multitude of moments that were simply fun to revisit.

But when the last clip went to black, I found myself ruminating on how we hold the past, as opposed to how we hold on to the past.

I’ve been running this Mobius mind-groove for a while now, but it kicked up a gear when I turned 50. It’s a soupy thought-conundrum based on mulling a desire to simultaneously honor the past, build on the past while navigating the present, and remain open to — shoot, to even welcome — the future. I admit we are in freshman dorm territory here, only AARP-legal and without the weed, but I’m too deep in the stew to stop now. Hopefully next week it’ll be back to zippy anecdotes about chickens.

The thing is, I have watched so many of my elders grow fearful and brittle with time. I am distinguishing here between standing on principle and simply standing in the way. In some of those old videos I was joking about how things are “around here.” I was nodding in my heart when my head suggested things weren’t that way at all anymore, and in some cases maybe never shoulda been that way in the first place.

I am being deliberately vague, as I don’t want to send anyone down a specific rabbit hole. Life has enough hounds howling down the comment threads. I’m just trying to call my own memories into question. Not to dismiss them. Not to cease enjoying them. But to see them the way someone else might have seen them. And perhaps gently break it to my memories that I am grateful for the time they gave me but we are moving into a new phase now.

I am not surrendering reminiscence. I’m just not gonna wear it around like a 40-pound vulcanized parka (which is probably in a box in a shed). I’m going to work to see the future through the eyes of those younger than I. Hear it in the words of those who speak differently than I. Discover it via the minds of those who conceive of a world that includes me but need not center on me.

In this the age of binaries and snark, the preceding paragraphs have set me up to come off as half-baked, mealy-mouthed, and short on details. So be it. Sometimes the only way to learn something is to say something and then just sit there and take whatever ricochets. Sometimes the only way to move the world forward is to get out of the way. Whatever the case, it is long past time to get rid of that parka.

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