Most people wish that time travel existed. Wait, let me correct that. Almost everyone has wished, at some point in their life, that time travel existed. Who wouldn’t? Even if it’s just something stupid, like you missed the bus and wish you’d moved that little bit faster, or you forgot something and wanted to go back and remind yourself to take it with you.
And sometimes you really wish there was a way you could talk to yourself in the past and say – wait. Don’t do that. But you can’t. Even if you could, it wouldn’t be a good idea. Time can be rewritten, the Doctor is always telling us. But should it be?
About a week before I turned eleven, I went to see a doctor. Not a time travelling one, just a doctor who pokes you and asks if it hurts and prescribes medicines you would’ve bought over the counter anyway. I was having trouble with my knee caps, the problem being that they kept dislocating.
The doctor said to me, “Do you do any kind of sport?”
“How would you feel if I told you that you had to quit for six months?”
I glanced at my mum; she knew exactly what I was thinking. A little cautiously, I said, “I wouldn’t be that upset…”
People who know me now would find this hard to believe, but ballet didn’t mean much to me back then. I went to a much stricter school, which if I’d been one of the super-committed kids who did every type of dance there was would have meant I had a much better chance of getting anywhere. However, I wasn’t. I played two instruments, and anyway at a good school like that (not that my current school isn’t good!) classes are very expensive.
I used to come home from most classes in tears, or I wouldn’t go at all – I’d pretend to be ill. If you missed more than two classes in the term, you couldn’t take your exam that term. The three or four exam candidates got to stand in the front row for centre work – and woe on the one who was demoted! And if you copied another student, it was the greatest of sins. It was a hierarchical, terrifying, disciplined place.
I like to think that if I went to somewhere like that now, I would appreciate the criticism and the perfectionist teachers, but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I like being able to muck around doing pirouettes and having a laugh with the other students. I like how you’re never pressured to come to more classes, and how if you miss one it’s not a massive big deal. I like how we’re allowed to copy other people when we can’t remember the steps.
Anyway, several times over the past year or so, since I started getting seriously interested in ballet again, I’ve said, “Oh, if only I could tell myself not to quit ballet, or to go back when the six months was up.” By the way, the reason I didn’t do that was because the few friends I had would have moved up to the next class.
And then I look at it. I thought I was being kept down a class, thought that my teacher didn’t like me, thought that I was a rubbish dancer. I wasn’t. I look back and see how I at, ten, was in a grade three class with students two, three years older than me, some of whom I still know. I look back and see how I was moved up from grade one to grade two without taking an exam, because my friends were all going up.
I look at how I discovered writing. The end of year eight – I was thirteen. I did very few activities. Hadn’t started Irish dancing yet. Music was the only thing I did. Though I wrote stories, no one read them and I had no way of improving. And I found Protagonize.com and everything changed. From there I met my friends Spook and Elo, or Charley and Cathryn. I started blogging, and I came across National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.
Without that sudden discovery of writing, it would have been much longer until I was talking to people about my hobbies on the internet. It would have been much longer until I could call myself a novelist, a blogger; until I could write posts and know that someone somewhere would read them; until I ran into Mark Williams and got involved with his blog and St Mallory’s Forever; until I had a hope of being a decent writer, ever, in my life.
I like to think I would have been good enough to go to a ballet school if I’d carried on as a kid. I don’t think I would have done. But I also know that if I had, if dance had become my life and the thing I did, I wouldn’t have discovered writing, and I wouldn’t be who I am now.
And maybe I wish I could be better than I am. Maybe I’ll be sad if I never make it as a dancer or dance teacher.
But I still have my writing, and without that I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t know all of you people. And if I changed history, if I rewrote time, then who’s to say I wouldn’t wipe all of that out of my life?
Not dancing showed me other paths. Not going back shows me how to carry on.