A Rumination on Some Old Writing

I have commented from time to time about my own writing and my writing processes, not only here, but also in other venues. I’ve also recently looked back over some of the stuff that I’d written before, partly because it was relevant to the writing I was doing more recently, and partly because I am still subject to fits of nostalgia. Sometimes, those fits do something decent for me; I did a few things decently in my younger years, at least, and I have not let their promise lapse utterly as seems to have been the case with quite a few other things. Sometimes, they do bad things to me, largely when I end up dwelling on what could have been but now never will be. Occasionally, though, they give me occasion to pause for rumination–not that I am short on things that offer such gifts.

Image from Giphy.com

Across years of study and years after formal study ended, I have been writing. I flatter myself to think that I’ve gotten better at it over that time; I know I’ve gotten more willing to put the writing where other people can see it, and I know I continue to harbor the idea that the writing I do is of some value to others. And not just in the way that any writer who writes for a public has to harbor such a thought (and all do, else they’d not put their writing where others are apt to see it); as the sample assignment responses I’ve been doing suggest, I expect the writing I do to be of direct benefit with tasks at hand in, at least the short term and for at least some of the work I do.

But I’ve also mused in other venues about looking back over older essays of mine and revising and otherwise updating them. (Admittedly, paratext is what comes to mind, but paratext is important, as I’ve argued and as others have far more eloquently and successfully argued.) I’ve got most of my old papers–those written since I gave up on trying to become a band director when I grow up–on file, and a great many of them would work as the kind of thing I tend to post here. They need more work than reformatting and insertion of paratextual norms such as illustrative and decorative graphics and HTML-compliant section headings, of course. Even the things I wrote a scant few years ago show their age and my relative immaturity, and I know that the things I wrote in my first year as an English major are far more dated, far less refined, far more annoying than what I put out now. (I have more sympathy with some of my professors now than I once did.) Revisiting and amending the work, though, might well do me some good; there are at least a few ideas that could stand some attention and refreshing, and the rest could well be taken as the kind of penitence a man like me might well do.

At the same time, with few exceptions, the repetition I already do is not the best. I am self-conscious about it already, as I think I’ve shown recently. And I’ve noted in other venues my expectation that saying again what I have already said, and to much the same audience that heard or read it the first time, will read other than optimally. I do not know that what I wrote in days gone by will seem repetition to those who have been reading me more recently, to be sure, but I also do not know that they will not be. And I am not certain that I will do well to work again with ideas that I had once had and put into words years ago; I am not so far past my dissertation as I am past quite a few of the other pieces, and I do not know that I can stand to look at the thing again to make it a monograph, as I know I was supposed to have done. (That I did not doubtlessly contributes to my not having secured work in academe, not that making the monograph would have guaranteed a damned thing.) The thought of catching up on the scholarship and writing the at-least-one additional chapter stymies me. The thought of going further back and trying to do more causes me to balk utterly.

Perhaps it is good to leave some of the past in the past. Perhaps it is good to have moved on from some things, to put them down and not pick them up again, not because others will need to take them up, but because they should be trodden into the ground by unseeing feet and covered over by the sediments of passing years, what was in them leached out and returned to the source form which they sprang or else locked away from view forever.

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