Comparisons, Nesting Dolls, and Learning From YA Fiction

Welcome to my glorious come back! Today, I’m talking about comparisons, nesting dolls, and young adult fiction. Which, as far as Rebecca Gibson glorious comebacks go, is pretty effing on brand.

Onto the main event.

Earlier this week I was in a pretty epic brain-funk (aren’t we all right now?) following some rejection and…the general 2020 happenings. So, I downloaded a little novella companion to the YA novel SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA (which I’m far too old to like so much but whatever).

In the story, the main character mentioned life being like a nesting doll. That no matter the various paths we choose to turn down, or if those paths turn out as expected, we still have all those experiences inside our nesting doll. All squirrelled away making up the bigger picture of who we are.

That line’s stuck with me for days.

I think because it harks back to the idea that we have one grand destination in life. So all of this is just a boring journey where we need to pass the time. That we’ll one day forget about this prologue stuff when said grand destination is reached. Except, this is the point of life. The journey is life and everything we do on that journey makes up who we are at any given point.

It’s probably just lockdown brain but I had a tiny epiphany. See, I talk a lot about comparisons on social media. Comparing our worst moments to everyone else’s highlight reel. Yet, I realise I don’t actually do that. I don’t want another person’s life. I want to be me and have my own life with my own values. What I do is, arguably, far more hurtful.

I compare myself to fictional versions of myself.

I’m constantly asking myself ‘what if?’. A question I set out at the tender age of eighteen to never have to ask. Now I’m in a ‘what if?’ spiral.

What if I’d studied abroad, done a different undergrad course, met different people, slept around more, been drunk more than three times, etc.

When I’m comparing, I’m looking at all the decisions I’ve ever made and wondering what would have happened had I chosen differently. Analysing all the potential parallel universe Beckys to see which one would have the best life. Which one, for example, isn’t on universal credit as a part-time, furloughed bookseller and very-not-successful writer.

I’m twenty-eight now (I need to realise when reading YA I’m now somewhere between the age of the characters and the age of their parents…BLOODY HELL). I know 28 isn’t old and it shouldn’t bother me—ageing is a privilege because it means we haven’t died—but it fills me with a near constant panic.

What if I’d done English, or History, or anything that wasn’t the car crash Psychology became. (See for reference: Statistics. I had a panic attack mid-exam because I didn’t know the answer to ANY of the questions. It was fun times, lads, I got a score of 28/100. We laugh or we cry. I did both. Then rang my mum to say how I was going to fail everything and I was a huge failure and my whole life was over. Dramatic? Me? How dare you!)

Comparing yourself to a fictional you is definitely the cruellest form of comparison there is. Because a fictional you is, by definition, always going to be perfect. She won’t be thinking about the mundane little grievances of life BECAUSE SHE’S FICTIONAL. She won’t wake the morning after an exercise class unable to rise without making old-lady-standing-from-chair noises BECAUSE SHE’S FICTIONAL. (Also, ouch, what devil invented burpees?)

Whenever I read a book about teenagers I spiral into this ‘what if I’d chosen a different path when I was eighteen?’ mind hole but here’s the thing: All of those fictional Beckys would be thinking the exact same.

The Becky who studied in America would be wondering if she should have studied in Wales. The one who took English would be wondering if she should have studied Psychology. The one who never wrote a fictional word, the one who started blogging at sixteen and became a millionaire, the one with the marriage and kids by twenty-five…they’d all have other worries. Other things they wondered ‘what if?’ about.

That’s where the nesting doll thing comes back into play. We need to own our decisions, every disastrous one of them, because that is our past. They make up our nesting doll (do we call them Russian dolls here? I don’t know my doll terminology).

We should trust those past versions of ourselves because the person we are now is the only version of our self that exists. All the fictional Rebeccas are not real (sucks to be them). This one, typing this slightly illegible ramble in a pair of second hand Levis and avoiding the plaguey outside, is real. This strong independent woman who is stubborn as hell and sticks to her views regardless of anyone else’s opinion is me. And I should be proud of her instead of berating her every choice.

We’re all doing our best with the nesting dolls we’ve assembled, but there are so many more layers to add (am I going too far with the metaphor now? The term ‘flogging a dead horse’ comes to mind…).

If I hadn’t studied Psychology and had my exam panic attack, I’d not know just how much I hate statistics and that is very valuable information. (Okay, so I always knew I hated maths. This was not a new discovery for nineteen-year-old me but OH WELL.) I do, however, thank that time for bringing me to Aberystwyth and my little found family of friends who, covid permitting, I’m celebrating a ten-year anniversary with this September. (Please behave covid/ Boris/ Great British public who seem to have zero common sense when the sun is out and beaches are available. YOU DON’T NEED A SUNBURN, FLY BITES, AND A SHITE ICE CREAM ENOUGH TO GIVE EVERYONE PLAGUE! But if you do go to the beach TAKE YOUR RUBBISH WITH YOU. All versions of me have strong views about this.)

Anyway, you be you. Don’t be a dick. Wash your damn hands. And for the love of whatever god exists WEAR A FUCKING MASK TO THE SUPERMARKET. (No, it doesn’t count if your nose is hanging out the top. Do you only put your underpants on halfway to leave your genitals hanging out the top? NO. It’d be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?)

(Side note: Apparently people were selfish pricks in the 1600s plague too, so at least we know we’re consistent?)

P.S. To fictional me that did a university course in America: Real me did move to New York state for three months. It was way too hot and stressful having to avoid so many bears. I’ll stick to just avoiding shouty drunk man outside my flat and the occasional badger or deer jumping out in front of my car. Thannnks!

Now I need to try and remember my WordPress password so I can post this…bollocks. (HUZZAH it let me on without a password, WordPress remember me *weeps in the corner*!)

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