Tonight, I cooked that recipe I linked to yesterday. It was delicious. And minutes ago, I was cleaning my kitchen, wiping down the counters, stacking plates into those neat stacks that I love to open cupboards and see. And I realized I was doing it and imagining myself approving. And then I realized this is something I do a lot.
Many of us seek approval, from many different sources. I do too. When I achieve something at work, I want to tell my Dad - it's his praise I crave in all professional things. When it's writing-related, I want to tell my favourite professor, who has always been such a supporter of me in every endeavour, but whose judgement of my writing I both fear and hold above all others.
But in the simple mechanics of living a good life, it's my own past ideas, daydreams, that I measure myself against. The years after I finished grad school but was waiting to emigrate, in particular, were ripe with aspirations; what kind of apartment I would live in, the way I would dress, how I would live in the place I lived, how I would spend the money that I would earn, who I would end up sharing it all with. And it's that Jane I feel myself sometimes wanting to impress.
There are some things about my life now that I know would disappoint that version of me. She'd be sad that I'm alone, whereas I'm not that sad that often about it. She would have expected me to own a home by now, something I occasionally feel shitty about to). But I can also imagine her blown away by some things and bemused by others (those curtains?!) And I can imagine her finding comfort and consistency in other things; books colour-coded as they've been since teenage years, Ted still stashed somewhere in the bedroom, the copy of Peter and Jane in the Garden on her bookshelf.
When I was a teenager, buying something that came wrapped in a paper bag with tissue and ribbons always felt fancy. I still love it. I think I still love it for my teenage self. When I open my medicine cabinet, I'm sometimes thrilled because I vividly remember the excitement of buying my first Clinique moisturizer at the original Brown Thomas - my first beauty counter purchase. It's that memory that prevents me normalizing these things to the point where I stop enjoying them. I'm probably not alone here - I'm sure many of us indulge and impress past selves in these small ways, harmless as they are. After all, "if you had told me then" is an oft-used phrase.
This post feels self-indulgent: writing about me thinking of me; my own past and projected opinion mattering so much. But it's also a source of a lot of the self-flagellation. That pressure to be and to do and to change is often fuelled by this phantasmical self. And sometimes I start to feel like I'm failing at things without realizing the source of that judgement and without realizing that those ideas were perhaps ill-informed in the first place, wide-eyed and idealistic as they were.
And maybe in ten or twenty years, I'll think the same things about thirty-something Jane, about what it is I'm projecting into the future today. Will I have a dog then? Will I own a home yet? Will I surprise myself yet and fall in love again?
David Hume cast skeptical doubt on the idea that we are really the same self moment to moment, saying that self is neither constant nor solid. His ideas about personal identity are arguable, of course, but there's a kernel I love: That we do seem to think of ourselves as much more constant than we are. We think of paths and courses, arcs and progressions. And in some things we're so dead wrong and yet we remain haunted by the dogma of those ideas. But in other things there really are threads that bind our sense of self, that fuel our sense of constant and evolving identity.
One thing I know: Past and present, I likes my plates neatly stacked, just so.