x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Learning to love your former self

What would I, Chris Wright, say to my 16-year-old self?

I was driving along the other morning, listening to an interview on the car radio. It was with a woman who was arguing that people can restore emotional balance in their lives by learning to talk to themselves.

This didn't seem like such a leap. I talk to myself all the time, especially in the car. I'll point idiot drivers out to myself, for instance, or verbally abuse myself when I've taken a wrong turn. It doesn't feel very emotionally balancing.

What this woman had in mind, however, was slightly different. Her idea was for people to imagine having a conversation with a former version of themselves, preferably during a formative or difficult time in their lives. What would I, Chris Wright, say to my 16-year-old self, the woman wanted to know. More importantly: what kind of advice would I give myself? That seemed easy enough: invest in Apple. Also, change your socks more often. And never, ever, wear a bandana tied around your neck. It looks stupid.

The 16-year-old me, I'm pretty sure, would not have heeded this advice. I can just see him, looking the 47-year-old me up and down, flicking his orange-dyed hair over his eyes and returning his attention to Making Plans for Nigel on the boom box. I began to doubt the wisdom of this woman's strategy. A few minutes in and I found myself wanting to cuff my former self around the head. I mean, look at the state of me. But maybe that was part of the process. I pressed on.

Here's a good one: stop fretting about what people think of you all the time. Try to enjoy yourself more. Let that girl Angela know that you like her. Don't hitchhike at night. Stay away from Betamax. Also, don't see storm clouds where there aren't any. Be nicer to your brother. Tell your mum you love her. Run more. Eat less chocolate. Don't buy any records by Adam and the Ants. Brush your teeth regularly, or at least once a month.

If you're going to insist on writing poetry, try to avoid rhyming "lifeless eyes" with "silent cries". And don't do that dance where you swivel at the waist, bend at the knees and swing your arm like a pendulum. Sometimes it pays to fret about what people think. Don't get into a fight with Paul Nix - you will lose. Try looking at something other than the floor from time to time. Don't mumble. Leave the spots alone. Oh, and here's a revolutionary concept: read a book.

It occurred to me then that my 16-year-old self would probably be a little spooked by all this. Some old, grizzle-faced guy appears out of nowhere and starts dishing out criticism. I'd be lucky if he didn't call the cops. I looked at the maroon leg warmers and decided to let those slide. In fact, the leg warmers made me feel a little sad. Poor him. Poor me. And maybe that's the point of this exercise. For all his faults, you end up loving that little guy. You find yourself wanting to reassure him, to tell him that everything's going to be OK. And it is, right? It's OK.