Do-Over! Author Robin Hemley Talks Embarassment, Abject Terror

We've all had a moment (or few) so embarrassing that we wish we could hop in the DeLorean, gun it to 88 and try again. In his new book, Do-Over!, Robin Hemley did his own version of time travel, revisiting past embarrassments in his life for a second chance to rectify past flubs.

In the book, Hemley returns to kindergarten to exorcise demons of a crazed teacher who literally stood on him during nap time and said he'd grow up to be a "thug." He also retakes the dreaded standardized test and asks his high-school crush to the prom.  

"It kind of came to me one day when I was talking to some friends and I just thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to go back to summer camp and re-live some of those summer camp experiences, but now as a 48-year-old?," Hemley says. "Because when I was a kid, I wasn't that great of a physical specimen, and I was always bad at basketball and baseball and such, and I thought 'You know, now I'm not so bad. I could probably beat a bunch of 10-year-olds.'"

After writing the piece for New York Magazine, Hemley realized that he could probably do a whole book of these childhood "fender benders." It took Hemley all of five minutes to produce a list of 10 life experiences he would like to do over. Of course, there were some rejected do-overs.

"One was a bar mitzvah," Hemley says. "I thought, 'No, I dont think I want to do that.' I would say there are certain things that one shouldn't do over, you know, first marriages and circumcisions."

Now a university professor, the father of three describes facing his past failures as "humorously traumatic."

"The day before I did any of these do-overs," Hemley remembers, "I was just filled with abject terror and I thought, 'What am I doing? Am I a complete idiot?'"

The worst do-over was re-taking the standardized tests. "I hate standardized test anyways,"  Hemley says. "I think they're a bit of a scam. I thought that this was a bad idea once I was into it, but it was funny and it was still edifying in some ways."

Hemley says it was a difficult to strike a balance between being entertaining, but not having fluff. "You want it to have some meaning in one's life, but I certainly don't mean it as a kind of Dr. Phil book either."

Readers have been very receptive of the book, even offering up personal experiences to Hemley that they would like to re-do. "People tend to be able to relate to it pretty well," Hemley says. "I mean, of course, there are those people who say, 'Oh, I don't think I would want to do anything over. All my mistakes made me who I am today.' And while I respect that, I also think, 'Come on, you've got some regrets. You've got something you'd love to do over.'"

Related links:
Robin Hemley on Twitter