Yearbooks late at night

I’ve been having trouble sleeping. This happens to me a lot: I’ll go through periods of a few weeks where I lie awake for hours before falling asleep.

This time, I think it has to do with the fact that I’m going to live in a different country next week, not to mention that I’ve just begun spending a lot of time with a person who happens to live here in the States and not in Japan.

When I can’t sleep, my first recourse is to lie in bed with my eyes closed, then open, then closed, willing my mind to let go. It doesn’t cooperate. If thoughts aren’t running through my head, it’s music: I remember one particularly resilient bout of insomnia that struck when I was taking a class on Bach my freshman year. Bach will stay in your head forever.

I’ll often get hungry, having eaten dinner some 4 or 5 hours before going to bed anyway. Can you think of anything more profane and boring than standing in a silent kitchen, munching on mozzarella in order to quiet your stomach without actually getting any enjoyment out of the act of eating?

So what have I been doing tonight? Since I’m going to live halfway across the world soon, I’ve been cleaning my room. It’s an archaeological exhibit. Since I left for college 3 years ago, I’ve been aware that I have been allowing things to pile up in here. But some of this goes waaay back. This week I unearthed six yearbooks from third to eighth grade. SIX. Beginning at age EIGHT.

So I find myself looking through yearbooks late at night. This is a terrible pastime. Rehashing the past is pretty much never a great idea. It’s not that it makes me terribly sad or resentful — but it does make me mushy and nostalgic. And I find myself doubting that I really took the best course of action in some small, insignificant area of my seventh-grade life. Like resenting the very pretty girl whose photo always appeared next to mine in the yearbooks and, year after year, overshadowed my long forehead and braces.

You can always tell, looking back, which kids were going to become the popular ones. The supreme confidence with which they worked the camera, the uncannily mature poses adopted at age 11 or 12. One of those future popular boys appears on the first page of my eighth-grade yearbook, blond hair spiked, cocking both hands like guns at the camera in an incredibly effortless example of 13-year-old cool. In two years, that boy would pass by me in Spanish class and say to me, “Your makeup looks good today.” I think those were the only words he ever spoke to me, and I was flattered to a degree that embarrasses me now.

This is the problem with looking back at those early years now: I cast a (more or less) adult outlook on adolescent circumstances. I judge my younger self — and, worse, the younger selves of my peers — too harshly. As kids, we were all rash, insensitive and at times a little cruel. Or, we were on the receiving end of actions and words motivated by those traits. It’s easy to forget that the irritation I feel, looking back on those years, was born well after the fact. At the time, I was perhaps a little confused and more than a little angsty, but for the most part I was content with my life, like I am now at age 21.

I think that my perusal of old yearbooks can be attributed to a peculiar and slightly obsessive personality, so I doubt if I have to warn any (imaginary) readers against doing the same thing because it wouldn’t occur to anyone else. But I guess I’d like to say, in general, avoid analyzing the past. It’s there to guide you as you make your way through the present, but nothing good will come of applying your current perspective to a younger self. Especially not sleep.

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