See, it looked like a good idea to start this up again at the time. Realistically, it didn’t really fit in with what was going on in my life, so….

Enough excuses. You didn’t come here to see me do a mea culpa.

I recently spent a week in the UK. It was the first time I’d been there in fifteen years. Just thinking about that made me feel old. In 1988/89 I went to the UK to go to school. It’s hard for me to swallow the fact that it’s been so long since I was in school. So, two things weighed on my mind while I was over there.

Firstly, I was really amazed by how much the country had changed. I have to be honest, the Brits didn’t leave a very good impression on my young mind. I found them tiresome in the extreme for the most part, and quite a bit sad. My view at the time was the Britain was the home of a dead culture and a nation filled with people who were still in mourning for a lost empire. The older folks spoke constantly about their nation’s finest hour being during the Blitz in WWII. Their finest moment, in these folk’s judgment was expressed by the way they’d endured being bombed relentlessly by the Germans and how they’d held their heads up while all around them was being destroyed. That alone was enough to make me sad. A whole generation seeming to believe that the greatest moment of their nation came in the midst of dreadful carnage and destruction. 

The younger folks just seemed bitter and resentful that the glory days of Empire were something that they’d been born too late to enjoy. The combination made for a very dour and depressing place to be, and a place where it was very difficult to find enjoyable company. Even the tourist punks on the King’s Road in London were dull. How can you be dull with a pink Mohawk haircut? So it was a great and pleasant surprise to find that the Brits seem to have ceased to care about the past much. The future doesn’t look particularly bright, but it does look a bit better than it did to the eyes of someone in Britain at the end of the 1980s.

The Second thing I had on my mind was my past self. Anyone who is my friend today has heard me say, “I don’t think you’d have liked me very much if you knew me when I was in college.” I’m an admitted reformed jackass. In my youth I tended to be cruel, angry and prone to fits of rage (and a whole host of other really unpleasant modes of emotional outburst) and just not someone you wanted to know. Adulthood and responsibility smacked me upside the head in my mid 20s and like a recovering addict I came to realize that I’d been pretty horrible to a lot of people. Few of those people have anything to do with me today. Those who’ve stuck around definitely deserve a medal, or statue built in their honor in some park. 

I found myself, at the end of my trip, standing at the doorway to my old hall at Oxford, and the moment absolutely filled me with torrents of emotion. I was bowled over by feelings of regret. Mind you, regret and guilt are, generally speaking, things I just do not do. Part of my growing out of my selfishness was realizing that guilt and regret are indulgences of self-centered folks. They are useless emotions that cannot motivate one to anything but introspection and navel-gazing. They’re a bit like a snake that begins to eat his tail – no matter how full his stomach gets from the meal, ultimately it’s not going to be good for the snake at all. Guilt and regret just feed into themselves in an endless cycle with no constructive good to be gained.

Nevertheless, there I was, standing in the doorway of St. Michael’s Hall feeling like a complete and utter ass. I came from a family that did not value education and who did not have anything above very modest means. That I managed to go to college at all is remarkable. That I finished and earned a degree is amazing. That I earned a portion of that degree at Oxford is, well, inexplicable. At that point in my life, even though I was a pretty nasty piece of work to socialize with, I knew the value of what I was doing and took my studies quite seriously. I walked away from Oxford with straight A’s and the expectation that I would return to earn a higher degree. Getting there had been damned hard work for both myself and my parents, and none of us could really afford the expense associated with it. And yet, in the past fifteen years I’ve done fuckall with the education it took so much effort for me to earn. 

I shook off the guilt and regret long enough to wander towards Christ Church College. If you haven’t ever been to Oxford you’ve still probably seen Christ Church. It’s the college that one most often sees in television shows and movies that are set in Oxford. I wandered through the gate into the Christ Church meadow. In all the time I was attending school nearby I never once set foot in this meadow, so I was very drawn to it on this visit. 

As I strolled on the paths around the meadow, past the Cherwell River I felt another tinge of regret. I’d never set foot here before, I realized, because of one of the key flaws of my younger days. I had no appreciation for solitude as a younger man. A thing done alone was, to my mind, a thing not worth doing. I always strived to share my experiences with someone, and avoided doing things alone. This meant that as my closest companions in school were not the sort to wander through meadows, or amble by picturesque riverbanks, I never did any of that sort of thing back in college. I think this realization was also the key to where the blame for my not continuing my education lies. 

To go on to graduate studies I would have had to abandon my friends. None of my close friends were going to grad school. I’d also had a taste of the graduate life while in Oxford. Mostly my days, were I to pursue the study of Medieval Literature and History, as I had planned, would be filled with time spent, in solitude, bent over books in a library. At 36 just thinking of this makes me woozy with joy. I’d rather spend the next five or six years in libraries studying the past than dealing with much that’s going on here in the present. Time spent alone to me today is time I value very highly. It’s not that I like people any less. If anything, I have a real appreciation for those closest to me that I never felt for anyone when I was younger. However, I do now realize that time spent by oneself improves the time spent with others immeasurably. I also know that I’m not a creature of groups. I do my best work alone, where I can focus (or choose not to) and feel no obligation to others. Because I could not appreciate the value of solitude when I was younger I missed out on a lot, and turned my back on opportunities that will never be recaptured.

I suppose this is what we do as we get older. We start to see the line of travel our lives have taken, and it’s only natural to critique it. I still have no use for regret or guilt, and I’m glad that I’ve also learned not to dwell on things. Maybe some day I will throw myself back into the world of the Middle Ages for some grad school. I hope so. 

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