Sunday, July 26, 2020

What Would You Say to Your Younger Self if You Could? (When Youth and Age Converge.)

Variations on a Theme: Two Short Stories

Photo by Mark Timberlake on Unsplash
One of my favorite stories by Jorge Luis Borges is called The Other. (Really, Borges for me is like Dylan. The "favorites" list is very, very, very long, and The Other happens to be one of many on the list.) In this story, the author sits on a park bench upon which a younger man is seated further down. He suddenly has a premonition that this younger man is he himself and manages to confirm this as they begin to dialogue.

Borges frequently creates impossible scenarios and writes about them as if they could have really happened. Several of my own stories were germinated in this manner including Two Acts That Saved the World and The Empty Space, both of which are included in my volume of short stories titled Unremembered Histories: Six Stories with a Supernatural Twist.

So, what would you say to your younger self if you were able to do so?

Unfortunately, you only go around once in life, and I am certain that I could have prevented a lot of pain had I been able to clunk that younger self on the side of the head with a two-by-four a few times. As I reflect on my life, there are quite a few instances of stupid and careless decisions.

Once upon a time short story writers could make very good money. In the days before movie theaters and television, magazines like The Saturday Evening Post offered some of the best entertainment around. These publications paid well to feature marquis writers on their covers.

A century ago the highest paid of these scribes was, for a period of time, a writer named Jack London. London was no artsy fartsy powderpuff sitting on hillsides waiting for inspiration to strike. For Jack London writing was a craft and a discipline. Day in, day out he slammed out one thousand words of prose. By the time his life was cut short at age forty, his output had been immense – as many as fifty volumes of stories, novels, plays and essays.

This story made a major impression on me when I first read it perhaps 36 or 38 years ago. I've written about it a few times since then, one of them being this 2011 blog post about the story.

What I wanted to focus on here, though, was the manner in which Tom King, the battle weary veteran boxer, recalls his own life while fighting a an up and comer from New Zealand named Sandel. London does a masterful job of painting the picture of youth vs. age, simultaneously placing Tom King's older, wiser self side by side with his own youthful, exuberant self.

I won't give away the ending, but t packs a punch. Pun intended.

* * * *
I'm curious, when you look back on your own life, what do you see? Have you ever wished you could played some of those scenes differently? What advice would you be giving your younger self if you'd had the opportunity?

Here are links to the two stories. Above is the link to my review of the latter. Dig in.

Links to these two rewarding reads:
The Other
A Piece of Steak

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