By My Bootstraps

One of my favorite daydreams – which I would say comes from getting older, though frankly, I think it comes more directly from being a science fiction sort of chick – is what I would do if I could go back in time and give myself a message.

Let’s establish upfront this would have to be a short message.  I don’t know  what the rates are for trans-time communication, but it is probably prohibitive.  (The alternate to this dream is the By His Bootstraps scenario, and I suspect the one-way-mind-ticket back is yet more expensive, plus I’d have to factor in the boys and Dan too, because I ain’t going nowhere without the guyses.)

Yes, yes, “buy apple stock” is rather obvious, but let’s be frank here, okay?  Most of the time (with brief glorious exceptions when we had to catch up on all the deferred basics – forget luxuries) we were barely making it on the “we can keep roof over head, feed ourselves and keep cars running.”  We might have been able to pinch some money for stocks, but it was never going to be a bunchaton or even enough o make a difference.  Look, until about five years ago, I used to daydream IN THE CLEANNERS isle of the supermarket.  As in “oh, wow, I wish I could buy the more expensive/efficient scrubbing stuff instead of basic all purpose pinesol.”

As for “I’ll warn the authorities in advance of 9/11,” forget that too.  At best you’d get yourself on some FBI watch lists.  At worst, you’d get locked up as a loony.  It’s not like they didn’t have other warnings – the machineries of security work very slowly (and not very efficiently) and we all know what being the voice that cried in the desert got John the Baptist, right?

So, let’s just consider this – if you could – if you had the chance to just go back 20 years and tell yourself one thing… what would you say?

Needless to say my own favored thing would be to go back and tell Dan and I on the night  the car broke down – OMG, 32 years ago.  Where does time go? – by the side of that lone highway in Ohio “Just get married now.  Four extra years.”  It would have been tough, mind.  And we’d probably be about where we are… but… four extra years.

I used to daydream of this in reverse when I was a broke would-be writer, just starting seriously trying to aim for fiction writing as a job (before that my main goal was to find employment as a multilingual translator) because I had an infant and I didn’t want to put him in daycare.  So… exactly 20 years ago, give or take, when we first moved to Colorado.

I used to push the pram with Robert all over downtown, from bookstore to bookstore (we were so broke that most of my reading material came from the “rejected books” shelf outside stores, so I usually hit all three everyday to make sure I didn’t miss any good stuff) and daydream about myself-from-the-future coming back and just saying “you’ll make it.”  I thought it would save me so much heartache and stuff.

Well, you shouldn’t lie.  Not to the young.  And I was (relatively) young then.  If I could go back, could I really say “you made it?”  Oh, sure, from the perspective of Sarah-back-then who thought she’d be happy if she just published a few short stories (yeah, and the moment I did I started going “I want to sell a novel.”) yeah, probably.  But on the other hand, what about the years of heartache, the years I HAD to write six books, the years of throwing books into an endless abyss where nothing flourished?

If I told her, she might have chosen to do something less painful for money, like sell a kidney.  And yet, from a certain perspective, if you squint – and are thoroughly drunk – I wouldn’t give up on what I’ve done.  I think at least some of the books are very worth it.  (And probably not the ones I THINK are worth it.  Time and again writers misevaluate their work.  So I’m not going to try.)

So, if I could go back – or send back a note to my younger self, what would I say… exactly?

Well, at the time we moved to Colorado I was starting to get a hint that being attached to my first world would be me nowhere.  I’d jump on that and say “Diversify.”

What else?

These were the early days of online communities.  Dan wouldn’t let me get on AOL because it was stuff for non-techies.  (He’s always been in denial about the fact I’m a non-techy.)  I’d have insisted, and I’d have got on the early Baen bar and pursued my traditional publishing that way.  (Weirdly back then I was starting to write in the future history timeline, and DST wasn’t that far off.)

But more importantly?  You know the worst block I faced?  That was when I wanted to write something I knew had NO market.  Say, an extended romance/ghost story set in the future (Well, that was one of them) or the fantasy everyone kept thinking was YA despite rape and madness, because it started when character was 17 (for one chapter.)  Putting those stories “to bed” and continuing on the stuff that had a chance actually took more effort than just writing them.  It was kind of like trying not to push when I was giving birth to #2 son and the doctor had to drive in from his office [kid was delivered by a doctor in street clothes.]  It was much harder than actually giving birth.)

So I’d say “Just write it.  Whatever crazy idea, write it.  Don’t worry about shorts.  Don’t worry about submitting.  Don’t worry, really, about any publishers but Baen.  Overtime?  Not worth your effort.  Write for Baen and write for the drawer.  Write a lot for the drawer.  Trust me, the time will come when you can put it all up for sale, and if you have twenty novels finished, you’ll have a huge lead.”

And then when I get to that point in the daydream is when I realize, if I can JUST get over being sick, I CAN still do this.  I haven’t finished a lot of stuff, but I do have a lot of stuff almost finished.  (This is where I explain that 1/4th written and fully plotted IS “almost finished”.  Trust me. Like Christie said “it’s all written in my head.)

I can diversify.  I can write faster.  I can finish stuff.

And then I get warm fuzzies.  Which is the happy part of the “talking to younger self” dream.  Because, let’s face it, even if I could talk to her, so much could go wrong.  First, without writing short stories for two years, would I ever have learned to start books?  And without the years of forced writing, would I have honed the craft?  And besides, even if I knew I could one day publish it all, would I have written much more?  I mean, it’s easy to forget, in retrospect, but you know, under life is what happens when you’re doing something else?  Same with writing.  There was children’s illnesses, our illnesses, money trouble, moving…  (Okay, so I’d have told self to avoid our first house in CO because ick.) There were weekends wasted in glorious walking around with the guys.  There were days spent cuddling and watching stupid movies because there was a blizzard out.  I wouldn’t trade any of those.  (Okay, maybe the sickness and money trouble.)  So, in the end, not much more would probably be done.

And now… Now I have a chance to do it, anyway.  So – this might be the flu talking.  Or the bourbon that I’ve drunk as ersatz cough syrup – let’s say I start today.  Pretend myself from the future just came back and told me – fifty is not that old! – “write now.  Write as much as you can.  Write for Baen, and write for indie.  Start putting things up now.  Go.  You have no idea how much better off you’ll be in twenty years.”

Well… why not?

It’s worth a try.

By my bootstraps.


Completely different post over at Mad Genius Club.

56 responses to “By My Bootstraps

  1. I’ve thought about this a lot (starting when I was a teen and wondering what sort of advice future me might give). I’ve sadly come to the conclusion that I’m too pig-headed to listen to advice. Most of the advice I might want to give younger me, younger me ALREADY KNEW but was refusing to listen to. :-/ (forget “Male Answer Syndrome” ; I think I’ve got “Male Cassandra Syndrome”)

  2. The problem with going back and alerting my teenaged self that I was clinically depressed was that I’m not sure my teenaged self could have done anything about it.

  3. My advice to teenage me would be very simple. “Forget what that damn guidance officer says. Go into programming.” If there was room to say more I’d add “Computers are not a fad and they will not be gone in ten years.”

    • I was standing on a street in Manhattan in 1977 contemplating accepting an offer from some friends to move back to CT to help found a software business and I can remember saying to myself, “you know, I bet computers are gonna be interesting…”

  4. Robin Roberts

    These were the early days of online communities. Dan wouldn’t let me get on AOL because it was stuff for non-techies.

    Dan has standards, he does.

  5. I would tell my younger self that what I was going through at 14 would be over in four years. And then I would hug her.

  6. I’ve often daydreamed about this as well. In fact, I’ve got about half a novel centered around this very plot point. But… the reason the story stalled, and the reason I think I couldn’t do it in real life is that I’m not sure it would be a good idea. Yes, I could spare myself a lot of pain and suffering. But I might not have these wonderful (at least most of the time) kids. I might not have met this really terrific guy, or known how special he was if I hadn’t gone through a couple really bad relationships before we met. So, if I could go back to 18 yo me (my pivot year in life) I am not sure I would. Now, I’ve been through it… and my life is looking pretty good. Sometimes we need all the dark clouds to appreciate what the sunshine is.

    • I have a short script written about this idea. Maybe someday I’ll shoot it, or at lease publish it.

      One thing I have to ask, though — how many of us are applying NOW the advice we’d give our younger selves? I hate to admit I’m not.

      • This is what I meant by the post. The use of these dreams for me is EXACTLY that: “what can I do now that I would tell myself to do then?” It has worked NOW quite a few times.

  7. Ah, Time travel is always a dangerous thing. Even if you succeed at what you try–see my wife’s novel. Back when Harlan Ellison was still capable of introspection, he wrote an episode for the new Twilight Zone, obviously about himself, where he went back in time to meet himself as a lonely 12 year old and befriend the lonely boy he was. Of course it ended with his older self having to go back to the future and the loss of his 12 year old self’s only friend being the cause of his bitterness by deserting him.

  8. “Yes, you’ll always miss Papa; that’s part of how he lives on, the missing lasts as long as you remember him, so it’s worth it. Yes, you’ll find friends– really interesting ones, and that annoying typing class will be REALLY useful. Listen to mom and dad, they’re training you to think, you’ll really appreciate it in about five years. And you will get a little taller! I think that’s about as much as we can risk with all this time loop stuff– oh, we still like Star Trek, too.”

    Hey, I was, like, ten! Thus, no mushy stuff about one of those future friends being my husband, because of that time loop thing. *grin* I’d probably not actually contact me at all, because I know me, and I know that if I was actually back then, I’d do something horrible like beat the crud out of the anesthesiologist who murdered my granddad by malpractice, and that would have further complications…

  9. 9/11. Yeah. You can’t warn the authorities about a coming disaster. Three months before Operation Barbarossa, Churchill warned Stalin that the Germans were massing on his border. The US ambassador gave him the same warning. The second translators decoded a German message that mentioned “Operation Barbarossa,” they were screaming on the phone to whoever would listen. “Barbarossa! Frederick! The last ruler to invade Russia!” Richard Sorge, the Soviets’ greatest spy, gave his life to warn Stalin. The Lucy Ring in Switzerland sent one transmission after another saying that the Germans were going to invade from the Polish border. Nah, Stalin thought. My dear friend Hitler, the only one who understands the business of being a ruler, he would not betray me.

    • Stalin also thought that he was the one who was going to betray Hitler, so of course Hitler couldn’t betray him first.

    • Not to mention the obvious: Stalin *wanted* the invasion to happen — it effectively wiped out all resistance to his regime (the Ukrainians, the Byelorussians, etc.), plus it cleared a path for him almost to the North Sea (unfortunately for him, Patton neatly fucked up that part of the exercise >:) ); and he even managed to get the West to pay for most of it (Lend-Lease).

  10. Lottery Numbers

  11. “The fear will go away.” That’s what I’d tell my 17 y.o. self. “It will take time, but it will go away. Oh, and your voice will recover.”

  12. I am time-limited because I won’t change anything that might take away my children……. so, that means I can’t send the message any earlier than their most important formative years. let’s say 1985. Which kind of sucks because I was 30 by then. Oh well.

    “Stop selling hardware. Just stop. Pick a market and write something good for it. Borrow the money to live on if you must. Watch for “HTML” and “The Web” Stay vendor independent, write for the generic web as soon as you can.

  13. Wayne Blackburn

    I would have to weigh the fact that I would not have the same children I do now, because if I went back to the most important inflection point, it would prevent me from getting involved with my wife. I would go and tell myself that if I didn’t buckle down and make it through college with good grades, that I would be setting myself up for decades of disappointment. I’d probably have to do it after I had screwed up a semester or so, so that the message would sink in, but it might work.

    If I determined that I could not accept preventing my current children (though #2 son is pushing his luck right now), then I would go back to 2004 and tell myself to ABSOLUTELY EFFING NOT buy a house out in BFE, where the boys would be too far from their friends to get to them easily and frequently. Just quoting the change in gas prices in upcoming years would take care of that.

    • MY most important point, I think, in the things that can be changed would be “homeschool the kids till they’re old enough, then put them in the Coronado dual college/highschool program and in robotics. They’ll be fine.” (I can’t recommend those enough if you’re in Colorado Springs, btw.)

  14. I can’t really think of much to advise my younger self, for the reasons others have listed. Two items come to mind, one general, one specific:

    There are certain friends who will die sooner than you expect; spend more time with them while you can.

    Do NOT let your brother and cousin use that copy of Hulk #1 for firestarter. Put it CAREFULLY away.

  15. There are lots of stories about time travelers going back to warn themselves or warn others or whatever. One of the best, to my mind, is Ken Grimwood’s REPLAY. I’ve written a review of it at my blog,

    In summary, I think going back to warn myself to avoid the mistakes I made would be a bad idea. The mistakes I made also made me. Avoiding the mistakes would be to avoid the lessons I learned from them, lessons that turned out to be valuable later. In short, avoiding the hard knocks, the romances that ended in heartbreak, the wrong decisions, would soften and lessen me in important ways. Would I really have wanted to know, when I proposed to her, that my first wife was going to die young?

    Then of course there’s the idea that knowing what was coming, I could get rich. Place bets on winners, etc. But how many of us really know who won the Kentucky Derby in 1964, or who won the World Series in 1959, or whatever. I don’t know that now, without looking it up, and if I were thrust back to 1959 without preparation, I would have no idea about what bets to place.

    And of course If I did prepare myself and take that information back with me, my “success” would be bound to be noticed. Noticed by the FBI, the CIA, the Mafia, and even the KGB. I don’t need that kind of attention in my past.

    While I’ve written time travel stories, and am working on another one, I’m just as glad I can’t go back and warn myself of what’s coming.

  16. Move south. No matter what it takes, move much further south. Either just that, or if going back to the time I got accepted to university, that I have only a couple of years left when I can still study successfully during the winters, so try to get my papers out in the next two, three years and then move south.

    Well, younger me probably wouldn’t listen. I need to KNOW before I do things, being told just tends to make me stubborn and contrary.

  17. I think the one thing I would tell my younger self — perhaps around age 12 — would have been to remember the things my dad taught me, and the stories he told me. I would tell myself to write them down, so I wouldn’t forget them. A number of them would be pretty useful today, especially the ones from the Depression years. Unfortunately, I probably would have been too stubborn to listen.

  18. I don’t daydream about the past when I can anticipate the future. I find it odd that so many conservatives are making no preparations for an economic calamity that is easy to predict. I’m not talking about gathering ammo for a zombie apocolypse, just the sort of mundane things you might do if you knew a storm would knock out the power.

    • That’s what my husband and I are trying to do.

    • I don’t post about taking showers daily, either, but doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it. “Have the stuff you need to take care of you and yours” is dull.

      And my ammo is a vital part of that preparation; all the prepping on earth does you no good if you’re murdered on day two by someone who didn’t prepare.

      • I’ve posted before about it, too. I think we’ll be okay int he long haul. I.e. if I live to be eighty, I’ll probably see a great renaissance, probably AROUND government which might or might not still be cacked (that’s something to talk about in another post. If you guys haven’t seen Dave Freer’s Post on Monday at Mad Genius Club, GO DO SO. It locked into stuff I’d been thinking about.) BUT in the meanwhile, things are going to get ugly. Not all the time, but sporadically and in sports.

        Make preparations to make sure YOU personally don’t have to experience the devolution of civilization.

        • I was in South Africa when Zimbabwe was collapsing (they didn’t know they were collapsing then though) around the early 80s. It scares me when I see it happening here.

          • Sigh. I have family quite literally all over the world. (Insert double ethnic joke here.) The seventies were spent having relatives come back with only the clothes on their back and telling tales of collapse. (One of my favorite cousins was born in Zimbabwe, in fact, and his family came back…)

            • I have a good friend who still lives in South Africa (Portuguese heritage) and was in Angola just before the collapse there. The stories were horrifying.

        • Specific situations, I believe, or a specific aspect of preparation; there’s so very many variables that the whole topic of “be prepared” has way too many broad strokes to be really interesting, it’s applied common sense.
          It’s specific stuff that’s interesting!

    • Oh, hell, we’re always prepared for that. The daydreams about the past are an intellectual game to sharpen my vision of the present. I suppose I should write a follow up post.

    • My extended family and I are collecting and growing heirloom crops, storing the seeds. We are also collecting hard copy (read: books) on how things were made/done prior to 1950.
      I personally have been working on acquiring skills that will be necessary to survice in an agrarian society. Everything from woodworking and metal working/welding to beer brewing.
      Money won’t matter a whit when it is all devalued to nothing, or fiat currency established.
      Skills and barter goods are going to be what gets you through.

  19. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Several here have said that their younger self would be “too stubborn to listen”.

    I’m afraid that would be true of me plus I wouldn’t believe that the guy with the whitish beard was really me.

    Oh besides being “too stubborn”, I doubt that my younger self would *trust* me. [Sad Smile]

  20. I would tell myself to have more children. Two is not enough.

  21. I’d take resources – probably specie – back and set up investments that wouldn’t mature until now. The trouble is that changing the past changes me now, and while there might be things about myself I’d like to be different – now – making the decisions earlier that would make that happen would change where I am now. Despite the bits I’m not happy with, I don’t want to do that. One the other hand, purely material wealth now would allow me to do some things to alter the future in meaningful ways.

  22. “This is how you build that time machine …” 😛

    • Ah, that would be the bootstrap scenario alluded to earlier. Probably too long a message too.

      “Time travel is possible, so think about this!”

      I just like bootstrap scenarios, I guess. “Take that!, 2nd law of Thermodynamics”

  23. “So, let’s just consider this – if you could – if you had the chance to just go back 20 years and tell yourself one thing… what would you say?”

    You’re not fat. Don’t waste these years by not realizing that you’re beautiful, enjoy being young. Enjoy not hurting. Go start a martial arts class now and look until you find one you like.

    But I’m not sure it would really work, because I’m not sure that being told is the same as having the experience of being 48.

  24. Meh. I’d have to go back at least thirty years to do any good at all. And then I’d need to kick myself. “Stop being such a Wuss! Just jump in and try it. If you don’t try, you’re an automatic failure. Except the horse breeding. Skip that and just buy a really nice riding horse and enjoy it.”

    Younger me: “Define Wuss. Time travelers ought to use the right slang.”

  25. Ignore all the people that tell you these are the best years of your life, they’re not even close.

    • Well, actually my thirties were very nice, except for being broke for the first half. We had a nice little local group, we had our kids… It was nice.

      • Well… I’m IN my thirties, so twenty years ago would be my teens.

        • you know, we spent the kids elementary/middle/high school years saying “this stuff is all unimportant. It all goes away. You’ll be much happier in college.” They thought we were nuts. Turns out we were right. They’re just NOW starting to see it.

  26. Unfortunately, no amount of time-travel would be able to improve my life: I couldn’t read at 2&1/2, so “Do *NOT* turn that TV on” is not going to help; and then there’s the bevy of physical maladies which have combined into a Perfect Storm Of Utter Worthlessness.

    So instead I’m going to send a message to my mother in 1970:

    “Have your tubes tied *now*.”

    (I was born in 1972. Do. The. Math.)

    Get this through your head, folks: There’s “being alive”, and there’s “living”; AND THEY ARE *NOT* THE SAME THING.

    • You’re not worthless, and you’re “living” enough to hang out with us! Even if it’s just virtually, in a comment box!

      The worth of a person is not something determined by what you can do, and there are plenty of people here with plenty of physical maladies that are pretty darned bad. If you really didn’t have anything worth sharing, you wouldn’t bother to post. And yet you put those words together and say something, just so we can agree or disagree or just read it.

      I know, I don’t know a thing about your life. But I know a lot about depression and feeling worthless. Sometimes you really can’t “trust your feelings, Luke,” because you’re not getting good data from them. But if you keep doing _something_ positive, even when you’re at your worst, you will eventually get somewhere.

  27. You just gave my contrary mind an idea. I’d send a message back to my past self and say what NOT to buy. When I go through my junk box, I see a lot of kit that’s pretty useless now and that was top dollar in the day. No, I didn’t really benefit from buying an Amiga computer.

    • That, and “here are trends to watch for.” Assuming any change leads to more change, going back to before the personal computer revolution and telling oneself to watch for the things that accompany such. “Watch for when the world does X, and then capitalize on it, then start funding foundations for R/D, real education, skill development, etc.”

  28. I’d probably have a better message for other people, given that even five years ago I was a kid and thus not in control of anything that happened to me.

    That said, the question was about what I would say to myself.

    “She’s going to hate you more and more every time you do anything. She doesn’t care how clever you are. Sometimes running is the only way to win.”