“Whenever I think of the past, it brings back so many memories.”
The past is interesting. Its time has come and gone, but still it remains – in pictures that appear in our minds at the most random of times. Perhaps it’s something that someone says, or a certain scent, or taking a trip that we’ve taken many times before that reminds us of the trips from before that will never be again. And it’s almost as if we relive it all again, only this time as mere observers, not participants. During some of these times, a feeling of happiness overtakes us as we recall funny moments shared with another, moments when something we had always wanted landed in our lap, or that beautiful moment where the sun slowly rose as we sat on the beach beside someone that we held dear.
Likewise, there are moments that haunt us. Ghosts of failed relationships, of hurt, of times that we worked so hard for something only to stand by helplessly, watching as it was taken away.
All of these moments, though nothing more than faded photographs that will forever be just out of our grasp, remain. And they are always just a moment away. The question is, what should we do with them? As with most truly important things, the answer isn’t always clear.
Our past. It defines who we are and helps shape who we become. Our positive memories can often serve as motivation to better ourselves, or provide us encouragement when the present has dealt us more than we can take.
But the past can also be a hindrance. It can keep us from taking action as we sit yearning for a time long ago, when we were younger, fresher, more hopeful. “If only I could be the way I used to be. The old me.” Focusing on the past can also remind us of all the losses that we’ve experienced in our life – the damaged relationships, the rejections, and whatever else made us want to hide ourselves away and never be seen again.
So do we hold on to the past, our past, or let it go?
I think we should let it go – because it’s already gone. We can remember the good times fondly, but we should avoid wasting time wishing that we could go back to those times. Because we can’t. No matter how much we want to still be in college, or young adulthood, or whatever “golden” time we yearn for, we’re not going to magically be transported there. And those losses? Those bad memories? Learn from them, realize that just because it happened doesn’t mean it will happen again, and move on. “Great,” you say, “easier said than done.” Of course it is – everything is. But if you really want to, you can. In the end, when you examine and eliminate one by one every excuse for why you can’t do something, it all comes down to a choice.
You choose whether to live in a time that was and will never be again, or to live in a time that you have only once. Now. Because before you know it, now will also be the past, part of the collection placed carefully on that shelf of memories that we hold so dear.
At one point, we’ll all be nothing more than a memory that someone we know or love will recall until they’re also someone’s memory. And when our life reaches its final pages and is closed for good, will it read as a history book dictated by the past or . . . something else?
Growing up, I spent most of my summers at my grandmother’s house. Both my parents worked, and apparently they didn’t trust me to stay at home by myself. I imagine it had something to do with the time I caught part of the backyard, and my shoe, on fire. I wouldn’t have had it any other way though. I loved going to my grandma’s house and spending time with her, and it’s something I always look back on fondly.
Most, if not all, of my mornings were spent recreating the Atlanta Braves game from the night before with my wiffle ball and bat. I would cut out the box score (when newspapers still printed those) and spend most of the morning playing the entire game, inning by inning. I wouldn’t come in until it was time for lunch with Grandma and our daily viewing of Alice, which is a show that all 9-year-old boys enjoyed watching in syndication. Maybe it was just me, but I really identified with a single mom who was going through life with blinders on (it’s tough to do) while trying to raise a son. But this isn’t about Alice; this is about the conversation my grandma and I would have almost every day when I came in.
“So Mark (my middle name), did the Braves lose today?”
“No. They won in the 9th inning. Murphy hit a home run.”
“Oh.” She gave me that all-knowing grandmother look. “Do you ever lose out there?”
“No. But I am playing by myself though, so . . .”
“You should lose sometimes. It’ll be good for you.”
“Because you need to see that winning isn’t the only thing.”
“I know, Grandma. There’s losing and I don’t want to do that.”
“Second place isn’t so bad if you know you did your best.”
I remember laughing and thinking that second place is just as bad as last place, and I remember being completely unaware of why my loving grandma wanted me to lose. Was it because I kept digging up her backyard in order to build a pool? Then one day, several months later, she had crocheted me a card. Grandma crocheted a lot. She made flowers, cards, and pillow covers, and she would give them to people that she thought needed them. She even tried to teach me crochet but I never progressed past a crochet rope.
As I type, I’m looking at a card she gave me that day. The card, with its crocheted border, is just two index cards that she put together. It says, in really big handwriting: ‘To my grandson: My favorite 2nd place finisher.” On the inside, she wrote that she would always love me. I kind of got what she was going for but didn’t really pay too much attention to it then. Still didn’t understand what this 2nd place thing was about. I did save the card, though, and I’m glad I did.
Because one day, several years later, a couple weeks after my grandma had died (on my 19th birthday), I was sitting in my dorm room alone. I had just missed out on something that I had really wanted and had worked really hard for. After she died, I had brought a lot of things Grandma had given me to my room, and as I sat there, feeling down, I saw that card. And when I read it again, it was like I was seeing it for the first time. I finally understood what she had been trying to get me to understand all those years ago.
That it’s not about what place you finish in the end. In reality, you have very little control over the outcome of things, and sometimes, no matter what you do, you’re going to come up short. And sometimes, no matter what you do, you’ll come out on top. All that you can really control is how much effort and time you put into whatever it is you’re doing, whether it’s a game, a performance, or life. If you know that you gave everything you could, then it really doesn’t matter where you finish.
Even if it is second place.
Hattie Harrington is not a real person. She doesn’t live anywhere, she doesn’t have any children, she’s never had a job – as a matter of fact, she’s never even taken a breath.
But alas, she continues to torment me.
Hattie Harrington was a character in my first almost-full-length play. All the Young and Restless Days of Our Passions at the Bold and Beautiful Hospital, my homage to soap operas, was going to take the playwriting world by storm. It was going to afford me the high life that all one-time-published playwrights enjoy. The big cars, the flashy life, telepathy . . . all because of this one amazing play. I directed my masterpiece, putting it on stage at a summer camp, and then I spent several hundred dollars printing and bonding the scripts (using card stock, I might add) and sending them to every publishing company I could find. I imagined that in the ensuing bidding war, I was going to have to break a lot of publishers’ hearts.
Only it wasn’t theirs that got broken.
Well, okay – I didn’t get my heart broken. But rejection letters aren’t pleasant. Especially when you pile them on top of one another and you can barely see over them. Or when you’re living in an imaginary world where your plays are fantastic from the beginning and need no extra work. Most of the rejections were form letters, some said they loved the title (which I actually can’t take credit for. It was my wife’s idea), and once I even got the dreaded “It looks like you had fun writing this” (which is what I imagine you tell a three-year-old when they show you a picture they drew with thousands of lines and colors but for the life of you, you don’t see a bear anywhere).
I was in shock. How could this happen? After mentally mocking the lack of knowledge shared by these so-called publishing companies, I read my script again. But it was as if I were reading it for the first time – because the problem was so glaringly obvious.
You see, Hattie Harrington, the daughter of Halice Harrington, was perhaps the most horribly written character in the history of the written word. She was boring, unlikable, and offered no justification for her fictional existence. I did give her an exciting objective: to kill her uncaring mother. But that was all I gave her. And when I went back and read her scenes, her dialogue was reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s teacher. True, she might be saying words, but were they any better than that “waw waw waw” sound? No, they were not. And to think, I made two actors have to play her. They must have thought I hated them.
But as hideously written as Hattie was, what she represented was even worse. She represented my failure to look at my work honestly, to see the (desperate) need for improvement. Some people even offered me critiques of my work, but I ignored them because clearly I knew better. If I had taken those critiques to heart, the play would have been better. Probably.
Now, I try to keep the focus on telling the best story. I’m more open to critiques, more willing to work and rework scenes or plays. Taking the focus off my ego and placing it squarely on the story has made a huge difference.
Recently, I started reworking AtYaRDoOPatBaBH. I kept the characters I liked, even some of the scenes that worked pretty well, and maybe one day . . . it will be something better than it was.
Alas, Hattie didn’t make the cut. Her spirit, however, is felt every time I work on . . . anything. So maybe, instead of feuding with Hattie, I should thank her.
But then I realize I can’t. Because she isn’t real.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.