Sometimes I enjoy daydreaming about what people like Brigham Young and the Beatles (when they were together) would think of this modern day. Other times I imagine myself being able to look forward in time from 1984—the year I graduated from high school—at what my life is like now.
Overall, I think I would be impressed with the future, especially the Internet, iPods, and cell phones. I think these technologies are all even cooler than anything I could have imagined in my best youthful sci-fi thinking mode, and I get a tremendous amount of pleasure out of them—well, I wouldn't say I get pleasure out of my cell phone, given my dislike of the telephone in general, but I do appreciate the convenience. I would also probably be surprised that the world is still so relatively safe and stable, as I think I've always assumed that things would get bad fast in these last days. (I'm sure the time will eventually come when society does start really falling apart—I think one of the next trials will be another big economic depression to rival or exceed the Great Depression, but hopefully that won't happen for another decade or three.)
Looking at my personal life, following are some things from my current life in 2007 that I think would delight my seventeen-year-old self, as well as some things that would depress. The latter section turned out longer, which probably says something about my glass-half-empty personality. . . .
Things that Would Delight Me
• My wife and kids—I'm sure I would be overall impressed with my smart, foxy wife and smart, handsome kids. I was always so inept at dating and dealing with women that I would probably feel quite relieved to find myself so well squared away in this area. Twelve-year-old Jordan would blow me away, because I think he's already heavier and taller at age twelve than I was on my mission, and he's quite ethnic looking with his dark skin and big head of nappy spikes that remind me of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. I never felt any particular desire to have kids and in fact always sort of dreaded it, and I still don't relish parenthood as much as I'd like, so it's funny that I ended up with five.
• My writing output—While my career hasn't turned out anywhere near as exciting or fulfilling as I'd hoped, I think my seventeen-year-old self would be impressed with my writing output, especially the five books I've published. However, part of me might also feel nonplussed that all the books are on Mormon topics—in fact, four out of five have the word Mormon right in the title. I'm sure I would love The Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer and be fine with Mormonism For Dummies, but I really have no idea what I would think if I tried to read my novel Kindred Spirits. No doubt I would find it strange that I worked for six-plus years at the Ensign magazine, as I've never been all that religious and spiritual—after all, at age seventeen I was on the verge of two years of total apostasy.
• My beard—I would probably be impressed that I've worn a full beard for almost eight years now without ever having shaved it off, although I've occasionally plucked some patches bare and I'm obsessive about keeping it trimmed short. One of these years, I'd really like to let it grow out longer, if I could ever discipline myself to leave it alone.
Things that Would Depress Me
• Living in Provo in a dated house—Not only did I always imagine myself leaving Utah for good, but from a young age I felt a particularly strong dislike for Provo and Utah County. Visiting extended family down here as a kid, I always thought Utah County seemed way too Mormon, rural, conservative, and otherwise boring. And now look what's happened—I've been living down here for nearly ten years, and going to Salt Lake feels like visiting some strange big city.
And our house is still pretty much trapped in the early seventies, with moss-green carpet and gothic light fixtures and yucky wallpaper and even some dark wood paneling in places. I would have thought that this would have bothered me enough to do something about it by now, but I don't really see any reason for us to go into debt or make big sacrifices to afford a remodel, so I'm fine with our house for now—after all, it's spacious and comfortable, and remodeling would just give me anxiety about keeping it nice. But maybe we'll get around to it sometime, if we're still living here when our finances allow it.
• Working in the multilevel-marketing (MLM) industry—When I was a kid, my dad and grandpa briefly got into Amway—actually, I think they invested $10,000—and I spent some time reading through the literature and imagining what it would be like to run an Amway business. But they never did anything with it, and I soon learned that MLM is quite tacky, and it's also pretty shady as a business model, full of hype and false promise. So what industry did I end up working in? Freakin' MLM.
And when you consider the nutritional supplements and personal care products that my company manufactures, I'm totally working in the modern-day version of the snake-oil industry, which doesn't sit well with me at all. But, hey—the pay is good compared to my other two options of teaching and freelancing, I like my immediate coworkers in the Creative Services Department, and I don't know of anything else I'd really rather do, as far as earning a paycheck at some other corporation. Maybe work in book publishing or manage a bookstore? But I've already unsuccessfully interviewed at the three biggest Mormon book publishers, and managing a bookstore wouldn't pay enough. I didn't really think about career until after my mission, but since that side of me awoke, I've always hoped I'd be earning my living as a real author or editor by now (by real, I mean something on the national level, most likely based in New York City).
• Cancer, divorce, and bankruptcy—I'm sure it would freak out my young self to realize what lay ahead during my late 20s and early 30s, but looking at where I stand in 2007, I might feel some survivor's pride at having gone through those big trials during the 1990s. Today, I still carry quite a bit of baggage from the trials, mostly in the form of worrying about and trying to help parent my two adopted kids and dealing with my ex-wife, who keeps up a steady drain on my time, energy, and finances—she even frequently asks me to do freelance writing for her skin-product business, which I do in order to keep the peace and offset the extra child-care costs we have to split when she goes out of town on business (you know, the costs above and beyond the normal monthly $812 child-support payment). These pressures and complexities would no doubt boggle my young mind.
Fortunately, I didn't feel any consequences from the bankruptcy, since I married someone with good credit and financial sense. The bankruptcy was finalized exactly ten years ago this month , so I understand it should now drop off my credit record. As far as the cancer, I still have frequent difficulty swallowing due to the radiation treatment, and this seems to have gotten a little worse over the years rather than better. At work, I'm known as the guy who needs extra time at lunch so I can chew my food well enough to swallow. I'm not sure if I have other little internal side effects from the chemotherapy—things could crop up later, such as with my cardiovascular and digestive systems.
• Appearance and health—I always assumed that my hair would go darker as I aged, as I never liked having such blond hair. But it has stayed rather blond, and it will probably go even lighter as it turns gray, a process that I suspect is already well underway. As far as how much hair I have on my back and shoulders, I don't know whether I'd be impressed or put off by that. And even though I do the treadmill for thirty minutes three times a week, I'm pretty doughy in the middle and weak in the arms. I'm told I even have a little bald spot on the crown of my head, but I don't expect it to get too big, given my genes and hair.
As far as health, I'm sure I would be disappointed by how many little aches and bodily anomalies have arisen by age forty. Just last week I got some bad readings at the health fair—high glucose (157), high blood pressure (144 over 89), high pulse (105), below-average bone density. At least my cholesterol looked good at 173, but who knows if my good cholesterol is high enough or if my triglycerides are still sky-high, like they were about five years ago (in the 400s, if I recall right). The nurses all specifically mentioned the evils of drinking soda, and I'm glad I've cut down to only 22 ounces per day over the past month or so. I also wonder if my liver enzymes are still elevated like they were five or six years ago—I promised Ann I would go in for a complete physical this January.
As far as psychological health, I think I would be taken aback by the difficulty of carving out a satisfying career, balancing it with family and church, staying financially healthy, and trying to pursue personal interests and avocations, a process that seems to get harder rather than easier as the years pass by. It's sobering to realize that I don't feel any great drive or aptitude to earn money or be a leader—rather, I seem to find myself becoming the jester in whatever court I happen to be stuck, which I suppose is mainly my way of dealing with boredom. So my options in life are looking more flat and limited than I probably would have expected at a young age.
Also, my fears and anxieties seem to have increased a bit over the years rather than decreased, like someone playing Don't Break the Ice who knows that eventually the bottom could drop out. I think life is supposed to kick us in the ass, and I hope I've already undergone enough ass-kicking that I don't have too much more coming in the future. I experience regular depression and anxiety, so hopefully that's enough suffering to keep me humble and moving in the overall right direction.