Friday, July 23, 2010

Advice for Young Dory

I thank my friend Fletcher Beaver for this idea.

It's been an interesting week for reminiscences. Dinner on Monday with some friends I hadn't seen for over twenty years have made me really look over some of my actions and behaviours. The old statement,"If I knew then, what I know now..." rings so true. What may have happened if I knew what I know now?

Thankfully, I'm a great believer in what is - just is. You are exactly where you need to be at any given point in time. I have no regrets. There are just a few things I would do a little differently, but as there is no going back and changing things, there is no point mulling over it.

So lets wind up the time machine and go back twenty four years.

I find eighteen-year-old Dory, as I was known back then, surrounded by books in the Keith Murray Building of Lincoln College, Adelaide. The room is a mess, books and paper everywhere, a snoopy mug on her desk filled with instant coffee. There is a hideous red, floral bedspread across the single bed, a poster of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. Dory lies on her bed reading Little Dorrit, aware that she's having the crap bored out of her but unaware of how to change the situation. Dory's not good at making changes happen. The words of TS Eliot run through her head like a lament.

"Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool."

Being cautious to the point of stagnation is young Dory's downfall. She doesn't know how to take risks. She only knows how to be stuck and scared. Eighteen -year-old Dory is still getting over the destruction of her first love, a spotty lad named Stephen, six months before. Dory had never really experienced love until Stephen had come around and she's still perplexed by what she's feeling.

Dory is also unaware that her family situation over the last ten years has dragged her into a depression that she will wear for another fifteen years. She thinks crying yourself to sleep is normal. Dory has no self confidence or self esteem.

She's not popular in the college, nor is she unpopular. She sits at the third table in the dining room - the one next to the Asian students, but far away from the popular kids. She has an amazing sense of bravado, for despite the depths of despair she is feeling, she faces people head on with a smile for the most part. Her friends tend to be the ordinary and the studious - of which she is not the latter. 

So, what would I tell this young, frightened girl twenty years on?

Firstly, she needs a hug and a kiss. She needs picking up, dusting off and told that she is beautiful, inside and out. The mass of reddish brown hair, big green eyes, the long, slim legs, snub nose and dimples are lovely. She isn't ugly. She needs to be told this, and taught how to make the most of it. She wont do this for years either, but I'm telling her now. It's a pity she wont listen.

The next big lesson for this shell of a girl - stop putting yourself down. There are enough people in the world to do this, there is no reason to do it to yourself. Dory doesn't see the quick brain, her ability with words, her kindness or her empathy as anything special. Little does she realise that words will become her life, she is loved and trusted as a friend and her empathy, at times verging on a psychic awareness, will give her the edge in many a decision.

Now, money, Dory. You know how your Uncle John told you to bank at least 10% of every pay check. LISTEN TO HIM! He's right. While we're talking of money, avoid the BT Time Fund like the plague. And the lesson learned in investment banking - don't get emotional about stock or money - live by it. Money is money. It's how you use it that counts, not where you got it from.

Dory also needs to be told to take some risks. Fifteen years later she will be sitting in Fitzroy Gardens one sunny, Summer afternoon, mourning the loss of a colleague, reading "Who Moved My Cheese?" She will read the words, " What could you do if you weren't scared?" and her world will suddenly expand exponentially. Her life will turn around quickly after reading this. She will move to Greece, work on an island, and start to plan her escape from a career she despises and find herself in a much better place. It's amazing how one small book can change your life. I'd leave her a copy if it was written back then. It may have changed things.

Men, for Dory, are always going to be problematic. She needs to realise that for every time she has her heart broken she will only become stronger. Men need to be your friend before you let anything happen, no matter how strong the urge to act on the need for attention or intimacy. As a girl who has never felt loved, she will make a lot of mistakes. She needs to realise how special and beautiful she is. Don't give herself away freely. She needs to learn how to trust. That one will take a very long time to learn too - as without trust, she cannot get close. These will be painful lessons to learn, but she'll get it in the end.

What Dory will not be aware of is that beneath the shell she is one of the most courageous people she will ever meet. She will end up living away from her family and friends, in a foreign country, illegally for a number of years. She will travel the world alone. She will do some amazing things. She just has to reach into her inner strength and run with it. She'll get good at that in her thirties.

Oh, and Dory, you are strong enough and stubborn enough to do ANYTHING you set your mind to. Your forty-year-old self runs half marathons. Don't baulk. Trust yourself and go do it - there is very little you can't do.

And if there were three moments where she would change her actions, and go the other road.

Dory, when you monumentally stuff up an Australian Literature essay in second year and are offered counselling. TAKE IT! It could have got you on the road to happiness sooner. You won't beat yourself up for this as you will learn other lessons first.

Also, sweet girl, trust your instincts. If it doesn't feel good, get out, and get out now. Your instincts are normally on the ball. Always trust them, they will never let you down. You will spend your twenties very lost, even more lost than you are at eighteen. Trust your instincts - they're your signposts to better things.

And remember, dear Dory. Drinking vodka out of your boss's belly button will never lead to any good. Never. Thankfully, only the two of you know about this moment. You wont do that again in a hurry. Belly button fluff vodka will never catch on.

I'll leave Dory to the joys of Dickins and her view of the KMB lawns.

It's good to know she will get somewhere in the end.



River said...

Vodka out of anyone's belly button is never a good idea.

Pandora Behr said...

Yeah, you're right River. The things you do when you're young and drunk.

Kath Lockett said...

Ah Pandora, even Dory's regrets aren't bad ones - maybe they're hard for you to write, but they're actually pretty lovely to read.

And you SHOULD be proud of yourself!

I am.

DL said...

I think the most important thing about any reminiscing or, worse, regret over the past is that you should be able to forgive yourself. Having 20/20 hind-sight is one thing - being able to say: "I did pretty well, given the circumstances", is better than: "I wish I hadn't..."

For me, the best way to do that is usually just to forget about it. The present and, to a lesser extent, the future is what counts. Just ask Eckhart! Although, it's always nice to take a measurement and stock of how much you've grown. Sadly, not everyone does.

Pandora Behr said...

@ Kath Thanks. It's taken a long time, but we finally got there.

@DL Ever so true - look at the now and look forward - it's the only thing you can do something about. Eckhart Tolle is right there. But evaluating how far you've come is very validating exercise.

I'm thankful I have no real regrets.