To cook free will, first heat your biography to 400 degrees

Groggy in bed this morning, I discovered I was having some kind of conversation with myself about freedom from the oppression of one’s autobiography.

“As you get older,” I realized I was saying (I might have been worried if I wasn’t still half-asleep), “you come to realize that your personal history is both inescapable and irrelevant. If you do it right. Because of course your past is what has thrown you into the present – not just as a set of circumstances but as a set of perspectives, the limits of your whole concept of the world. And yet, at exactly the same time, the more distance you get the less power it has over you.”

Why the hell should I care about how passionately I fought my high school administration … and my college administration … and my grad school administration … let alone affect my behavior right now? What do loves lost 20 years ago matter? You can certainly hold a grudge, but the more time you fit under your skin the more alarmingly free you become to disregard everything you have been up to this point.

Today has been a day for defensive action against depression. I did some light cooking in the late morning, then went to wander the San Francisco Botanical Garden in the afternoon, and to marvel at the fact that as a child I absolutely refused to learn how to cook and garden.

My father loves to cook, and always wanted to teach me. My mother loves to garden, and always invited me to help. But I went out of my way, not only refusing to learn but actively scorching the earth with hostility until their efforts to share something they loved just weren’t the effort anymore.

And I can’t for the life of me (and who else’s life could it be?) remember why this was so important. I have no idea what I was rebelling against.

It wasn’t “my parents” – I shared a lot of their interests. Was there a reason these interests set me off? Was there anything worth fighting for here? Anything in the inner space where I would otherwise be cooking and gardening that was worth defending at all, let alone so ferociously?

And if I could remember it now, would it matter?

I doubt it. Even if it was really a great idea, an act of profound psychological self-actualization, even if I was the smartest fucking pre-teen and teenager on the planet with regards to my inner needs … God help me if I’m still rebelling against the same things now.

My best guess is that these were practice runs: I was testing my capacity to rebel, discovering my capacities, seeing where the ground was firm … and doing it with things that were ultimately low stakes. Even if something went horribly wrong, the fact that the stakes were really so low meant that I wasn’t going to break anything important.

Except that now, 30-odd years later, I wish I could cook.   And had a little garden.

Most of the decisions we make about who we’re going to be when we grow up are made in perfect ignorance of the consequences. This is tragic in ways we all must live through.

But it is also the only protection we have from living our lives as a never ending cost/benefit analysis. We cannot know, so we must be. And I don’t think you ever outgrow that.

Blessedly, you do get to forget.  Except in the fog of dreams, where you are permitted to gently explain to yourself, one more time, what a fool you’ve always been.