A Whole New Meaning to Self Care: On Kaj Tanaka’s “My Younger Self”

A presentation by Angelica Atkins

Summary: In Kaj Tanaka’s “My Younger Self,” the older self (OS) tells us that his younger self (YS) cleans the house when he feels like it, and then the two get drunk to celebrate and trash the house again. The older self takes care of the younger self through washing the dishes. The older self is ashamed of the younger self, but the younger self looks up to the older. The OS enrolls the YS in Tae Kwon Do, but the YS gets too cocky and annoying so the OS stops it. Next, the OS enrolls the YS in community college. The OS tells the YS that if he’d stayed in school, he’d be making more money; the YS tells the OS he likes him the way he is, and they both get drunk. The OS is disturbed by his younger self and so drinks for the next week. That Saturday, the YS has had 5 beers and the OS cautions him against drinking so heavily, for the OS’s sake. The YS doesn’t listen, but the OS understands. The community college doesn’t work, which the OS understands. The YS stays home and smokes weed and drinks and sometimes goes out. Next, the OS orders books from Amazon.com, hoping to get his YS interested in business, which is what he’s interested in. His YS doesn’t like any of them. The YS still stays around the house, and the OS can tell that the YS “feels superior” to him. He then tells the YS that he will become the OS in a few years. The OS is laid off from his job for not showing up, and the YS says it’ll be fine. The OS asks him, since that is his future self, whether he likes what he sees. The YS says he used to, but doesn’t anymore. The OS thinks of murdering his YS at night, but loses the energy. The YS finally has an idea: marry a rich white woman and all the financial problems will be solved. The OS grudgingly goes along with this idea. Going to expensive places, the YS burns through all the OS’s money and savings quickly. The YS wants to go back to Tae Kwon Do, while the older one wants to be an accountant. The YS then leaves, taking all of the OS’s credit cards and emptying all his bank accounts. The OS is left with nothing, except the certainty that the YS will become him soon. The OS lives each day out of spite.

Acute and Chronic: Chronic tension is the Older Self wanting to fix himself, Acute is the Younger Self’s growing resentment and departure from the Older Self.

Highlights: Remember whenever a well-meaning teacher is like “if you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?” and then you realize that your younger self would probably ignore what you say anyway? Well, that’s pretty much this story in a nutshell. I loved reading it. I mean, like, you hate yourself, but then you also hate your younger self (or at least this older self does). But what if you could actively interact with each other? I’ll now focus on what I took as the chronic tension: the older self hating the younger self and trying to ‘fix’ him. It’s first shown when the older self says

I put my younger self on an exercise regimen to offset all the beer he drinks. He knows it is for his own good. I enroll him in Tae Kwon Do because I always wanted to be a black belt.

Here, the older self is projecting his own aspirations onto his younger self. The older self isn’t quite fixing the younger self yet, but making him better and fulfilling the older self’s dreams. The effects of this are explained later, when the older self says that

With any luck he will get laid more than I did, and then I will have those memories later on.

So if the younger self learns a skill or has a memorable experience, ultimately the older self will benefit without having done any of the work at present. Though he doesn’t see it, the older self and younger self are the same in the respect that they don’t want to do any work to better themselves, though the older self’s only ways of fixing himself are through suggesting activities to the younger self. The irony is strong here. The pattern of the older self suggesting things to the younger self and the younger self resisting continues through tae kwon do, community college, and amazon books. But here is where the older self fails. He loses his job, and his standing in the younger self’s eyes. Now he has to give way to the younger self’s attempt at bettering himself, which ends in disaster. The older self’s self-hatred led to an interesting train of thought for me: if you had this easy way to better yourself, would you? By convincing your younger self to do (anything), you are changing your own future.

The other thing I highlighted was the older self understanding the younger self, which adds to the cyclical tone of the piece. The older self hates himself, but at the same time, understands where his younger self is coming from because he used to be his younger self. This understanding allows the younger self to get the better of the older self, since the older self thinks he understands the younger self’s actions because he used to be the younger self. But here is where the disconnect happens: the younger and the older self have become different, because the older self has made all these mistakes. The younger self knows that the older self lost his job and is a failure, and now his desire is not to end up that way.

What I could use for my own writing: The concept for this story is what drew me. Making self-hatred into an active trait, a why for what someone does, was something I hadn’t seen done that often. I want to incorporate what could be seen as passive traits into active ones.

Writing prompt: Create an element in your story that is technically impossible but not explained. It should be a central element of the plot.

Questions:

Is the older self right to guide his younger self?

Was the younger self right to leave?

Could the older self change his own future?

 

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