PW: At the end of “Dead Animals” the narrator has the realization that his current life is “another life” altogether from his previous life. This hit home, as I often look back at my past and see an entirely different person. Do you think this is a common experience and what, if anything, in our lives remains constant, as a kind of thread that runs throughout?
JM: I often see a different person when I look back, too, Pete, which I definitely think is a common experience. In fact, not long ago I was thinking about my twenty-one-year-old self—about how I was taking all these Buddhism classes in college, writing slam poetry, refusing to join Facebook, sporting this shaggy hairdo before Justin Bieber came and ruined it for everyone, etc.—and came to the conclusion that I was way cooler back then than I am now (I’m on Facebook constantly; I groom myself conservatively). I remembered how twenty-one-year-old me was so cool he recorded his thoughts in a daily journal (something I’ve since lost the discipline to do), so I tracked down the journal and gave it a read. The entries were alright. Nothing spectacular. Some dream journaling and a lot of (accurate) premonitions about my doomed relationship at the time. One entry that caught me off guard, though, was from July 18, 2007. In it, I write:
“I haven’t been acting like myself lately. Most of the time, I feel as though I am slowly selling out. All of the anti-conformist ideals that I held so adamantly when I got to college are slipping away. I have a cell phone, an iPod, a digital camera. I say absolutely nothing in most social situations because I’m afraid people around me will disapprove. And I’m working at Applebees. Fucking Applebees. I was so much cooler when I was eighteen.”
So either I really am getting lamer with age (a possibility) or I have a bad habit of idealizing my past self…in which there might be a hint of that thread you’re talking about. I’m imagining this habit as sort of a neural pathway burned into my brain tissue, part of a blueprint that determines the way I tend to think—which I’m not making up, am I? Don’t our thoughts physically shape our brains, encouraging the same thought patterns that just intensify the brain-shaping (like, thinking a ton of negative thoughts now strengthens a neural tract that makes negative thought-flow easier for the future)? If so, I could get behind that idea as a link to our past selves: an ongoing, intensifying tendency of thought. Aside from that, I don’t know. People change so much and so rapidly. Our cells (though not our neurons, right?) are constantly replaced. Our memories morph and fade—especially mine, which could be another reason why I think I used to be so cool.