We are tempted to view our lives progressively. And maybe much of the temptation lies in our physical development:
If I am taller this year than I was last year, then I have grown.
We assume that change equals growth and that growth is good. While our controlling narratives tend to emphasize growth (and progression), I suspect that really we just change.
It is in our self-interests to cast the current versions of ourselves as better than previous versions of ourselves. It’s a sort of propaganda tactic we use to retroactively argue that our lives have meaning, that they have been directed toward a certain end. And by insisting that we will become better versions of our current selves in the future, we cast the foreseeable future as meaningful as well.
But this is a clear kind of chronological snobbery, and it is one that is rooted in our society’s preoccupation with the myth of progress. One of it’s fruits is the myth that we can always be better–that we should not be satisfied with being good enough.
* * *
It is really tempting to look back on my time in Abilene and trace out an arc of my progress, to name all of the ways I have grown since I moved into Mabee Hall in August 2008.
And maybe I have grown. Perhaps I have gotten better. I don’t know, and I don’t know what metrics I would use to measure “better.” I do know that my current self likes my current self better than my current self likes the memory of my past self. But I guess that’s a given. Like I just said, it’s a handy way to boost my ego.
But I have changed in the last six years. I don’t know if I have changed more in the last six years than in any other equivalent time period (seventh grade through high school graduation comes to mind), but I have changed significantly.
And, perhaps, more to the point: I am satisfied with who I am now.
* * *
Amanda and I will move to Dallas in eight weeks. I will begin a PhD in English at the University of Texas at Arlington while Amanda is currently interviewing for hospital jobs.
Eight more weeks in Abilene.
After six years here, this is it. And I am so guilty of the myth of progress, of change. I have, as recently as yesterday, expressed my desire to MOVE NOW. To finally leave this ugly town with its small cultural horizons.
But that isn’t fair. And Abilene, and the people here, have been essential to my self-understanding.
* * *
Here are some things that have happened to me in the last six years:
I learned to write poetry with the grace of an artist.
I began to care entirely too much about what people on the Internet thought of me.
I discovered the beauty of ancient liturgy and the sacramental life.
I dismissed other people because of their religious associations.
I learned to smoke fine cigars and pipe tobacco and drink good beer and whiskey.
I smoked and drank my way into a pool of vomit.
I loved people well outside of my comfort zone and range of experience.
I conformed to my perceptions of what the people around me wanted so that I could fit in.
I became a published scholar.
I took the lazy and easy way out lots of times.
I became a respected teacher.
I messed up but wouldn’t admit it to my students.
I got married and began reworking everything I know about love.
I gave into fear and shame and guilt more times than I can count.
I got into a good PhD program.
I got rejected from four PhD programs.
* * *
All I really want to do is remember. I don’t want to pass judgments or make broad statements about how I have grown or matured.
I just want to remember.
Below is a picture from each year of my time in Abilene: