My mother misses discovering new books all on her own, without reading anything about them or their authors in advance. When she was growing up, she chose books off the shelves at the Marietta library based solely on the titles on their spines. There were no pictures on the covers or blurbs on the back or “about the author” pages. She read Of Human Bondage in the fifth grade because she didn’t know what the word ‘bondage’ meant and by the end of the first chapter she was so involved that Maugham became one of “her authors” and she read all his other books too. She started reading Faulkner in the eighth grade because she liked the sound of Sanctuary, and it wasn’t until she was at college and started asking other people if they’d ever read anything by this guy named William Faulkner that she discovered that he was a famous, “great” writer.
. . .
I am still thinking about my habit of thinking that I need to erase or hide the mess of my past in order to start fresh. This has many negative consequences, including the fact that my files are such a disorganized mess. Every time I have an urge to clear off my desktop, I just toss all my old files into a folder labelled “old stuff” and hide it all somewhere, so I can get them out of the way and start my new, organized life with a fresh set of empty folders. After decades of this, it’s terribly difficult to find anything I’m looking for. I have so many different files labelled “writing” or “photographs” or “web” from so many different years, all nested inside each other in a cryptic structure. And my constantly changing web spaces and email addresses and so forth in order to reinvent myself on a blank canvas when I was a teenager also directly lead to my losing vast amounts of data when my abandoned email accounts and Geocities/Tripod accounts and LiveJournals were deleted and purged without having been backed up.
I have the same habit of withdrawing much too completely from “failed” relationships in order that I can “move on,” which I think is related to some of the difficulty I have in remembering the way things were. I throw away much more than is necessary.
One consequence of having my archives organized so opaquely is that when I do start digging, I often discover things I haven’t seen in years. I went on a mining expedition through my hard disk last night and found so many files from 1998 and 1999 that I didn’t realize I still had. All the meticulously hand-coded versions of my first domain, Sarasvati.org, from the days when I wanted to be a web designer. Journal entries that never made it into any content management system later on. Here’s an except from one I wrote when I was fifteen, that clears up the mystery of one of my first online flirtations somewhat:
“‘…no idea if you’re a guy or a gal, hopefully the latter cuz I could love you, and don’t feel like struggling with my sexuality these days, too damn old and busy, heh.”
This quote is from the first email R ever sent me. That was almost a year ago. The email he and I exchanged (in between the day he discovered that loving me could likely land him in prison and the day he ran off to Vegas and married an old friend of his) could easily fill a book. Or two. I’m still planning on publishing (and making a fortune off of) his half, when he dies. He’s quite well worded and interesting. We certainly don’t exchange five or six emails a day anymore, but we still communicate every now and then…”
I don’t have any of that old email anymore, so I am out of luck making my fortune from it. R was more than twice my age, so perhaps he had better back-up habits in 1997. It might be worth trying to contact him (and any number of other people I had intense email-based relationships with before 2003, when I registered my current domain) to see if he still has our correspondence saved on an ancient disk or server somewhere. Though my assumption that the public at large of the future would have an interest in these records was incredibly naive, my self of the future certainly does.
All this is tied into my thinking about making my old journal archives public again, which I am feeling more and more inclined to do (actually my previous wordpress site, with entries back to 1999, is already available, I just haven’t merged it with the present one).
I have several girlfriends I’ve kept in touch with since our very earliest days of writing on the web, in our teens. Some of them no longer have websites at all. But, of those who are still posting journal/blog entries and art/photography on the web, very few of them still have their material from the old days online. They talk of being embarrassed by their early work (even though the rest of the world still seems to love it, me included!) and of no longer feeling comfortable sharing such personal details of their lives with strangers, opting to stick with more focused and less risky material in blogs. Maybe this collective move away from the confessional is a consequence of getting older and less self-involved and more integrated with the world at large. Maybe it’s because now our parents and extended families and employers and students and potential new friends “IRL” and (most especially) the people that we’ve written about are all online, and we want to protect them and ourselves from the consequences of too much information and the “wrong impression.” Those are certainly key reasons I’ve had for taking down old online journals and photos or redacting and password-protecting things. But, for me at least, it’s also related to this (mistaken) idea that who I am now is somehow being defined or constrained by what information from my past is available to others. I want to be in control of all the information out there pertaining to myself (which is, of course, impossible), and I have a deep-seated fear that if everyone knew all my secrets, disaster would fall and I would be adandoned by the people whose love, affection, and respect I desire.
On one level, all of this obsession with my personal archives, much like my thinking (even jokingly) at fifteen that someday I could publish my personal emails as a book and make money from it, is silly, because, of course, no one, except possibly me, has much interest in sifting through all the ephemera of my past and making all sorts of judgments about the present me based on it, and even I (even unemployed!) do not have the time for that. There is too much new work still to be done, too many new stories I still need to write, too much art I still need to make. But I do believe that it is important to continue to examine these strange habits I have in thinking of my past (ranging from feeling oppressed/doomed by my mistakes to thinking that all my “best days” are behind me), because I can’t let go of them if I can’t see them.
(The truth is: in the kingdom of heaven, everything is included.)