Life lived backwards

When I was a kid, I often ended up reading books out of order. Madeline L’Engle’s famous trilogy wasn’t helpfully numbered; I had to make a guess as to which book came first, and then readjust when my assumption turned out to be wrong. I had no idea how to get my hands on the first Nancy Drew, and all my comic books had asides in them referring to events in previous issues. And that was okay. It matched my understanding of the world, that I was late to the party and had to pick up the threads of adult conversations that had been going on long before I arrived. But I think it also helped me become a writer: I had to infer or imagine what had come before, what was going to happen next, and then see if I had the satisfaction of being right or the delightful surprise of being wrong.

It’s not an experience we get much as adults; we can always acquire book one, or buy the complete season on DVD. With one exception.

When I discover a new blog I like, whether it’s a comic series or just someone describing their life, I usually have to start with the most current entry and slowly work my way backwards. Often, there isn’t an option to skip to the beginning directly, and there’s no way to scroll through all those pages to click to the beginning without seeing snippets and having things spoiled anyway, so you might as well read your way backward. Realized goals become crazy fantasies. Dashed hopes give way to months of anticipation, deepening the sadness. A yearly ritual slips back to reveal an epiphany five years before. And over the days or weeks as I move backwards, I have time to consider what else might have come before, what I haven’t been told yet, what I might never be told. It forces me to think, to participate, in a way that most entertainment doesn’t. It feels good to wake my brain up after a long hibernation.

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