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Reading Old Work

Just for the hell of it, I recently read a few chapters from a novel I wrote about ten years ago.  "Norton Is Thinking" was a college project about a kid who takes over his high school.  I complained about its ending last week, and since then it's been a bit on my mind.

Looking at something you wrote ten years ago is like having a conversation with a Pod Person.  You see traces of yourself, but it's generally off-putting, bizarre, and a bit upsetting.

There are passages that are clearly my own:  Abrupt shifts from third-person omniscient to inner monologue.  Contemplative exposition of barely-relevant details.  Low-key discussion of frustrating ideas.  The occasional angry (and possibly undeserved) outburst.

But then there are pieces that are so ridiculously immature, I'm shocked I ever thought they were a good idea.  Did I really find this funny at one time?  Did I really think others would want to read it?  Was this really the reason I thought I had attained the peak of talent and no longer needed to pay attention to anybody else's criticism?

The most humiliating moment of reading an old passage is when I can remember arguing with somebody.  "You should get rid of this scene," they'd say.  "It doesn't work."  And then I, in a self-righteous rage, would huff back, "No!  This scene is the book's heart!  If I get rid of it, everything falls apart."  Ten years later, I re-read it and I say, "This doesn't work at all.  What the hell was wrong with me?"

Which leads me to one of the other oddities of time....

I don't think I'm capable of remembering plot details of a story beyond a two-year period.  I'll remember the basic outline, sure, but anything beyond a simple three-act structure and you're asking for too much.  Steph teases me all the time because she thinks I'm a bad reader; I'll mention that I read a book, she reads it, she asks me what I thought about a particular part, and I go, "What?  That happened?"

This habit extends to my own work as well.  There are parts of "Norton Is Thinking" that I have no memory of writing.  Large chunks of it are so unfamiliar to me that it feels like I'm seeing it for the first time.  This occasionally gives me the peculiar and masturbatory experience of stumbling across something I wrote, enjoying it, and wanting to quote it.

Probably the biggest surprise I've ever had when revisiting old work was stumbling across an entire novel that I forgot I had written.  I've grown used to forgetting about subplots, characters, scenes, etc.  But never an entire book.  It wasn't small, either; "Plan Eight" was about 70,000 words.  Not an epic, but certainly a work that's long enough to merit some attention.

And yet, I have no memory whatsoever of writing it.  It's a total gap in my mind.  I recall the plot, as I turned it into an abandoned screenplay at one point, but I can't recall sitting down and turning it into a novel.  It's as if I just sneezed it out one day and went about my business.

It leads me to wonder about the work I produce now.  Will everything I do with "I Need a Job" vanish to dust in my mind a few years from now?  Or will it stick a little longer since I'm more invested in its success?