Forgiving My 15 Year-Old Self

When I was 15 I started a band with a few friends of mine. We were Christian nu-metal. That means we did our best to sound like Rage Against the Machine while inserting ‘The Good News’ between overdriven heavy funk licks. And yes, we changed the lyrics of ‘Killing in the name’  to ‘Yes God, I’ll do what you told me.” Once a year a friend discovers an old youtube clip of us and reposts it on social media just to remind everyone that I was once in a maximum cringe-factor high-school band. However high my ego has floated over the past year, it is mercilessly drawn back down to earth again by this reminder.

I often feel about that band the same way I feel about reading old journals. Like the one where I was travelling overseas for a few weeks and left a note to the girl I was deeply infatuated with at the time incase I ‘didn’t make it’ - spoiler alert: she’s now my wife. nice.

I’m thinking about this a bit at the moment as I’m in the final stages of putting into print the book, 21 Elephants, I’ve been working on for the past five years. These words emerged the other day while writing the introduction:

“There’s a good chance that as a 30 year old I might have just put into print one the great follies of my life. Perhaps I’ll spend the next 50 or 60 years defending these thoughts, or worse, apologising for the fact I don’t see things the same way I did in the first third of life.”

Will the thing that I’m currently pretty proud of just be an enduring relic of my immaturity? Will the writing style read similarly to the way my band’s nu-metal music is forever trapped in the early 2000s? In the creative process I’ve worked really hard to develop my own voice, but will I look back in ten years and see that all 50,000 words are just an imitation of my heroes? It’s all a bit scary to be honest.

The demands of the world to be cool and current are relentless. People can be pretty unforgiving. I find myself far too often affected by these pressures. The reality is that, unless I’ve written ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ or ‘The Luminaries’, there is soon coming a day where what I’ve created will lose some relevance and historical pertinence. I look back at what I thought even two or three years ago and know that those thoughts weren’t nearly as formed as they are now. In a sense I’m setting myself up for another annual social media post, quoting something I once said which will one day be the arrogant and naive ramblings of someone in the first half of life.

So then the question is, ‘Why publish?’

When I start asking this question it leads to a familiar kind of paralysis that is one of the defining traits of many Millennials. Inaction. Not inaction based in apathy, but based in fear. Fear that we might be wrong. Hence why so many of us would prefer to stay in the postmodern trap of indecision and upholding contradictory worldviews in order to make sure we can never be held to account for anything… ever. Some say ‘the good is the enemy of the great’, but sometimes for us I think the hope of greatness is the enemy of the good. ‘If it can’t be perfect then what’s the point?’

When I look back at that high school band and strip off the cringe factor of playing Christian nu-metal I remember something. I remember that we had a whole lot of fun doing it. Late night drives between venues when touring, eating bad food on the road with your best friends, meeting strangers who were moved by what you created - those things were all actually pretty cool. And when I listen to our old album I hear lyrics that still resonate with the heart of who I am now; criticising the consumerist hypocrisy of The Church and questioning why the highest ideals of our faith had been abandoned to move furniture around auditoriums instead. It’s old, it’s cringe, but it was ‘me’ and I’m proud of that kid.

And to be honest I’ll probably never be okay with my present self until I can forgive my past self as well. The 15 year-old self I judge today will one day by the 30 year-old self I judge at 45. I can’t live a perfect life and, in this day of social media, my mistakes will almost certainly be preserved for future scrutiny.

But, while I can’t live a perfect life, I can live a wholehearted and courageous life that will stand for what I know to be true at the moment. The world doesn’t need it’s artists and auteurs to be timid, insecure or fearful. It needs us to bring our often outlandish ambitions and high-minded ideals as they are, not censored by the fear of one day being ‘too mature’ for them. To publish, to create, and to release that to an audience is a profound act of courage. It is an action compelled by brave love and not fear. It is a strong action that says I’m willing to be wrong. So here goes nothing. let’s do this!