Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Then Again – Time Travel and Writing to yourself

then_againI’ve just finished reading Irma Kurtz’s book Then Again. She wrote it in response to finding a diary she wrote some sixty years previously when on a high school trip around Europe. She repeats the trip and gives rhetorical advice to her past self along the way.

My initial thought when I began reading the book was that it reminded me of my ponderings about time travel and the idea of visiting my past self, observing ‘him’ and maybe advising. I enjoyed such mind games way back when I was a child and learned of the Back to the Future films. The risk was always something like, well if you did go back in time and say/do that then you would change the course of events that follow and then not travel back in time after all – the time travel paradox. I suppose this is what made me grow out of such thoughts – I grew to accept how things are and that if I changed anything in my past then it would change who I am now, and I think I’m quite at ease with how things are and who I am.

The idea of observing is a nice idea though. Of course I would love to go back in time to witness certain things, like to see my dad who I have no memory of because he died when I was very young. I would love so see him together with my mum when they were young and in love. I would love to see myself playing out on my bike as a child. And beyond my self I would love to see the pyramids of Egypt being constructed. But changing things, I’m too… I’m too… I’m not sure what the word is, maybe conservative, or reserved now. Maybe I should go back in time and change that!

Perhaps if I could I should go back and give advice to myself about petty things, like “Stop ogling the girls in your high school classes because none of them will be your girlfriend, so you may as well focus more of your attention on your studies!” Or, “Enjoy that relationship for now but it will end in a month or so.” I think I would be less hash on my past self than Irma is in her book.

I would like to be a mentor for my past self and help him better himself in a variety of areas, such as making more of an effort with certain school work and cycling at a younger age, eating better, avoiding the parent’s smoking, not accepting the doctor’s ‘solution’ when he handed be an inhaler for asthma and other medication for hayfever – it would have been nice to know some of what I know now. I would have liked to have a heads up on who would be important in my life so I could give them more attention earlier on. I have even considered, if I could, taking back things which of little monetary value now, but would have been valuable back then, such as electronic tech, but I’m likely less materialistic now.

As I read on through Irma’s book I thought about diary-writing, and if we write in such a form, what this value is to others. In fact I considered the value of writing in general. You see, in this digital age where so many of us have blogs, we have this freedom to publish our thoughts and ideas, or stories, to the world with ease, but it seems to me that more people do this than read the thoughts and ideas of other random people, therefore, when we write, who is our audience? The answer is, ourselves. I think, in general we write for ourselves. That is unless we’re lucky or gifted enough, and have gained such an audience, that more people read our work than the average writer is privy to. I wasn’t aware of who Irma Kurtz was before I read her book, but I have since learned that she has been/is “agony aunt for Cosmopolitan for more than 40 years”. With that said, I can appreciate that what she wrote there has been helpful to many people, but her book, which I noticed has a retail price of £16.99 printed inside the cover, made me wonder what value is it to anyone else? To me it seems it was a personal exercise for herself to undertake, and to put it bluntly, I’m glad I borrowed the book from my local library, rather than having had paid that price for it – who would have? Perhaps only some ardent followers of hers. To me she was a stranger, and I don’t regret having read her book because I did glean some points of interest from between the covers, and there are some giggles along the way – I also appreciated her openness about such things as sex and relationships and this coupled with the concept of diary-writing has lead me to write more to myself, for myself, for my future self, if not may past self, but I can’t see me publishing that in any form in order to try and earn a living out of it, or make some money back off of a trip round the world.

Perhaps in sixty years time (when I’ve perfected my time machine) I’ll visit myself now and tell me I’m a silly sod and should knuckle down and write a book already.

I’ll now take this opportunity to nit-pick some of Amazon’s reviews:

‘There is so much that is vivid, wise and excellent in this book. With her generosity of spirit, love of people, untarnished curiosity about the world, laser-sharp observation and wry wit, she would make a wonderful travel companion. I for one, would be thrilled to find her sitting beside me on a long journey.’ Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

I disagree – half the time she doesn’t seem to love people, instead she looks down on them, including her past self, and Val Hennessy, there is the chance that should you find your self sitting beside her on a long journey, she may be in one of her ‘I’d rather keep my nose in one of my books’ moods and avoid all chit-chat with you.

A customer review says: “A disappointing book. Irma is overloading the text with unnecessary details as if she’s on a mission to fill in blank pages in order to produce a book… I found myself skipping long passages and trying to find a thread that would make the story an interesting inward journey but all I found were bits of wisdom too specifically related to Irma’s personal journey. Her musings did not have the depth necessary to make them universal or revelatory.” I think this customer missed the point that the book was written for Irma’s own benefit, and yes, a lot of what she has written in this book is trivial, but that can be entertaining for others, which I suppose is why it got published (or perhaps she got the go ahead to write it based on the concept, prior to venturing off round the world). There is no underlying thread or theme other than that created by her original diary, that is the basis for the book and the journey – as a reader we follow her on this journey as she reveals her recollections, which are largely revelatory to herself.


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