If I Could Turn Back Time

Normally, I don’t spend too much time looking backward with regret, but this nifty little writing prompt from the Plinky people got me thinking.

Do you remember Elfquest? It was originally a series of comic books and graphic novels launched in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1978 by the husband and wife writer/illustrator team of Wendy and Richard Pini. (WARP Graphics, collectively.) Elfquest stars Cutter, an elf on a mission to unite his fellow-elves, and a forest full of colorful creatures from Sun Folk to trolls to humans (called “High Ones”) to an extremely annoying, tiny, fairy-like creature who speaks in italics with a syntax that would make Yoda proud. (Currently, this gnat-with-a-wand is used as a cursor graphic on their website.)

I started reading Elfquest as a college student and went on to collect most of the original series, because I loved the story and felt a special bond with the couple, since I grew up just a few miles from Poughkeepsie.

Now let’s skip forward a few years. I’ve moved from Syracuse to Boston and have returned to the Hudson Valley. By day I’m a mild-mannered graphic designer. By night I’m working on my first novel, the behemoth I’ve previously written about, the one of the 138 rejections. The underlying theme of the tome is a comic book caper, and I’d even included bits of comic book text I wrote as one of the characters.

I read chapters of this book to my writing group weekly, and get a lot of useful feedback. One Thursday night, our faithful and fearless leader/moderator, Laura Jan Shore, invites a friend to sit in on a session.

It’s Wendi Pini.

I don’t know whether to wet myself or throw up. It’s not enough that one of my comic book heroes is sitting in Laura’s living room when I walk in, I (gulp) will be reading my work in front of her. That is, unless I faint after I wet myself and throw up. Then I realize what I’d brought for that night’s review: a scene from my novel about a comic book writer, most of which is a chapter of comic book writing.


I smile, shake her hand and generally, I hope, act like a normal person. When my time comes to read, there’s a knot in my stomach so big I’m surprised no one can see it through my clothes. I get that damp-palmed, jaw-quivering, one-bead-of-sweat-dripping-down-my-chest feeling. Working my feet against the planks of Laura’s dining room floor, I begin to read. I try not to think about Wendy’s reaction. I try to forget she’s in the room. My voice shakes and my heart’s thumping, but somehow I get through it.  She gives me good feedback, including some real-life inside baseball of the comic book industry.

Then she offers me a job.

Holy crap. I think my heart has stopped. Wendy-freakin’-Pini has offered me a…job? Me? Or is she talking to the guy across the room, who is a real writer, while I… well, I am about two thirds of the way through the first draft of my first novel. I am a neophyte. I am a chrysalis. No, I’m the slimy little thing inside the chrysalis…

So I mumble something about not having the experience.

Then I turn her down.

And cry for about a week.

If I had taken her up on her offer, who knows how or even if my life would have changed? Would I have grown into the apprenticeship, gotten a title of my own, maybe won awards? Would I have given up on the novel, given up on novel-writing completely? Would it have changed my personal life in any way?

What if I got into that time machine, took the job, and hated the person I turned into? Although I’ve got my flaws, my quirks and my hypocritical idiosyncrasies, I like who I am. My journey at times has been rough, but I’ve earned those battle scars and they’ve made me stronger.

I still want that time machine, though. I want to revisit the moment I made my decision and kick my mealy-mouthed, floor-scraping ass. Turning down a job is one thing. But turning it down because I was too scared to imagine my inevitable failure?

That’s totally and completely human.

What would you do with your time machine?

7 thoughts on “If I Could Turn Back Time

  1. Jill says:

    Gah. What a sad story [and a great post]!

    Remember the Albert Brooks film, “Defending Your Life”? It’s a wonderful flick because, as Brooks once said to Johnny Carson, “it’s true.” Fear and overcoming it really do make the difference between an okay life and a great one.

    If I had a Wayback Machine, I’d change every instance even remotely similar to the one you describe–when fear instead of hope guided me to do the wrong thing. I might not end up being the person I am today (whom I like lots), but I wouldn’t have to live with the kind of regret brought on by fear. I’d rather sustain failures and war wounds from overconfidence than be haunted by those absolutely ensured by my lack of it.

  2. JenD says:

    If I had access to a time machine, I’d switch myself at birth. Also, what Jill said. I learned a lot from that movie….just having trouble applying it to my life.

    • Jill says:

      yeah, but who would you have been switched with? I grumbled to the stepdaughter yesterday (whilst sneezing and whooping yet again), “I’m tired of being me; I want to be somebody else for a change.” I meant someone healthier, of course. Maria said: “Be careful what you wish for.” And she was right. Things can always get worse; all we can do is hang it out there in an effort to make things better. ♥

  3. auntbethany says:

    I loved this prompt too, Laurie. I took it down a completely different route, explaining how my life would have been better had my mom never given me a bowl hair cut when I was 5. I tend to go more for funny than serious anecdotes, but your post has got me thinking.

    I come from a family where the parents were “married”, but for all intents and purposes, were really just living together. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been a scared 7-year-old who begged her mom to NOT get a divorce, when divorce was still an option. I wonder how my life would have changed. I wonder if the relationship with my dad would have been better. I wonder how my future would have turned out.

    But…you CAN’T change your decisions, just learn from them. And appreciate how you turn out due to those life-changing moments which define you. Which usually is a-okay…depending how you look at it 🙂

    Great post…I’d read a comic by you anyday!


  4. hein11 says:

    If i had a time machine, i would have made sure that Wendi Pini stopped doing Elfquest right after the original quest ended. The series has been raped by it’s creator and has forgot about ‘Living in the now’, since everything new Elfquest only shows ‘dwelling on the past’.

    What a waste of talent. Never idolize anyone or anyone. Good thing you turned the offer away. Find your own way, and more importantly, stay true to it!

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