05/16/2013 04:27 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2013


Dear Waldo,

I'm seventy one, and I just got made a widow for the fourth time, and I am just so filled with regrets. Everything's ok if I do something such as go to work or the movies or watch tv or read a book, but the minute I stop my mind goes right to regrets. Why did I do this, why did I do that? What in the world was I thinking back then? It's like I been two different people. Or three or four. How could I have stolen someone's coat and mittens? How come I used to smoke? How come I went through my tramp phase? How come I used to go into such rages? How come I never held my children like I hold on to my grandchildren. It's regrets when I go to bed, regrets when I wake up. Have I been bad, because I think I have and I think I'm being punished. Am I? Am I bad? I'm going to sign with a fake name in case people I know see this because I'm embarrassed by what I've become.

Filled with regrets,

Dear Butterball,

I have great news: No, you are not bad. What you are is what every living thing on the planet is, which is terrible at accurately remembering your past. Your version of your past exists in only one container: Your head. You're the only one, Butterball, who gets to see what's in there. Your brain -- a work in progress -- is fairly good at recreating the broad details of What Has Happened, but it's horrible at reproducing The Way You Felt About What Has Happened. You may remember when you were intoxicated by love, or blind with loathing, or overwhelmed by joy, or insane with rage, but the memory comes back with only the skin of the thing. The heart and the guts are left behind in the woods. You may remember what you did, but you do not Feel what you felt. And so the You in your memory of You is nothing but a stick-figure, a zombie-like stand-in staggering through your past making blunder after blunder.

What you're forgetting is the real emotional gumbo of being young, the swirling of insecurities, the daily horror of trying to fit in, trying to find pleasure, wanting to be noticed, longing to be loved. At the heart of your regrets is just a good and kind and quietly desperate young person doing her best, feeling her way, making reasonable guesses based upon what she believes to be true.

Which brings us, Butterball, to a Major Point: What you think to be true has no faithful relationship with what is in fact true. Or, to put it another way, You and Truth are a comedy team -- Truth is the straight man, and it's your wild guesses that get all the laughs. Or, to put it another way, Truth is the donkey you're trying to pin the tail on. Truth is static. What You Believe To Be True, however, is as fluid and as vulnerable as your dreams. Living means constantly tinkering with what you think is true.

In the meantime, Truth just rolls its eyes.

And so Butterball, I say give yourself a break. Life is a joy and life is tough. You have the most sophisticated brain ever to evolve so far on this planet, but still it sucks in many ways. I mean look: It keeps bombarding you with these water-balloons of regret. My recommendation: Let the fuckers rain down upon you. Give them the finger. Shampoo.

Your Fan,

Waldo Mellon