New Me meets Old Story: on reading our old writing

Sometimes, those days come when we page back through old writing, scroll up in a long WiP to where it all began, where perhaps no one has looked for years. What do we find? How do we relate to what we wrote in our pasts? How do we understand where we have come from, and where we are going?

The fjord this morning. It’s starting ice over.

Recently I dug out one of my first short stories. So far back, I wrote it over half of my life ago. It was a simple story of a girl whose friend developed an eating disorder (something I think we were studying in health class). The narrator watched unknowingly while her friend’s habits changed, while her health worsened, until all was too late.

I look back at this childhood story with truly mixed reactions. Its tone is juvenile. I used the wrong “your.” I smile at its narrator’s naïveté, which was truly my own. Yet there are moments I pause. I remember so vividly the night I wrote this story. Twelve years old, I’d been tasked to write a short story for English class. All evening I had searched for an idea, until at last, lying in bed, inspiration came. My brain whirred. I stole out of bed, booted up my parents’ enormous desktop computer, and typed out a draft until two in the morning. How captivated I was. How much I wanted to tell that story.

I can see young Jimmy there: yes, young Jimmy the writer, but also Jimmy the friend, Jimmy the carer. There I am. That’s beautiful.

Sometimes, what I find is less flattering. For years before I knew to call my struggle with anxiety and depression what it really was, I wrote reams of journals running through my thoughts, repeating, dissecting, ruminating, entrenching thought patterns that ultimately hurt me. I don’t often revisit those pages now, because, as I’ve learned in the years since writing them, they are thoughts better released than plumbed. When I do go back, I see a lot of pain in those words. I pity the person I find there, wishing I could tell him that the writing, this time, isn’t helping.

The other reaction that sometimes comes for me is embarrassment. Did I write that? What was I thinking? Why was this important to me? Let’s hide that away. Let’s forget it.

If we can, I think it’s important to relate to our past selves with compassion rather than embarrassment. Writing is a unique sort of record of a person, whether journal, story, or poetry. Therein may hide our most personal thoughts. Also important to remember, therein lie the seeds of who we are today, beautiful and ugly.

Someday, the things we write today, we will read again. Will we be moved? Embarrassed? Kind? Callous? The stories we write are the products of our minds, and minds are forever evolving. Let what we wrote then be the words of an old friend.

What do you feel when you read your old words? What excites or confuses you? What emotions rise up? Do you resurrect old stories, or do you let them lie?

Love to you all, and happy writing,

Jimmy

An old song. It feels fitting for this post.
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