Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't look back

I have absolutely no idea why I started doing this, but earlier on I started to read through the archives of my old email account (which I stopped using as my main account in winter 2005). Because my brother didn’t have a computer of his own, and my family didn’t use any sort of instant messenger thingy, there was a near constant stream of quite lengthy emails flying backwards and forwards between me, Eddie, Dad, and various friends at other universities. Looking back at them I’m not hugely interested in the emails that I received, as they tell me things that I either remember anyway, or don’t really feel particularly enlightened for knowing. The thing that fascinates me is reading my old emails to others, daisychained along in a big string of correspondence under my friend's responses. Hotmail didn’t record any sent mail then, and I don't think it does now, unfortunately, so I have only the emails that I got replies to, but it’s still an interesting little study.

What I’ve learned is that I was really embarrassing. Even in emails written when I was just a few weeks shy of my 19th birthday, settled into uni life and in a relationship with someone much more mature than me, I was still writing like an overexcited child about everything. In any email where I mention something to do with women you can actually hear me puffing my chest out and talking in an artificially low voice. I didn’t think it was possible, but I seemed to have a writing style that sounded as ridiculous as my early experiments with facial hair looked. Amongst other things, I come across as a complete prick, arrogant and insensitive to the point that it seems like some kind of absurd parody of a teenage boy. Looking back, I like to think that that tone is the result of some sort of misguided bravado, as I don’t think I was ever that much of a wanker; I did have some friends, after all. Then again, looking at the emails I wrote to J* and the steaming moron fumes that rise from them, I can only assume that I really was as much of a jerk as I seemed.

It makes me worry now about this, about all the writing that gets collected. I write this blog, I use google talk (which keeps everything archived) all the time, and I write emails to people all the time. I think that the end result of this is that people like me are never going to be able to escape the stupidity of their past selves. Even this post, for example, will probably make me cringe in a few years time – if you look back through the archives to the old posts on here you’ll find plenty that make me cringe now (I don’t know why I’ve not bothered to delete them, I suppose it would feel like cheating, editing myself somehow).

In the past I expect that this was an affliction only suffered by writers who had to look back at their juvenilia in their collected editions, which had to flick past all those clumsy and imitative works that they’d long since surpassed and forgotten. Most people were lucky enough to never be confronted with artefacts of how they used to think, and could just pretend that they'd always thought in the way they did in the present.

That is, of course, assuming that I have changed. Perhaps I’ve not, and in a few years the changes that seem mountainous to me will seem insignificant and barely noticeable. I mean, I’ve just written this whole thing, in exactly the form you see it before you, in about five minutes. I’m pretty sure that come the morning it will look just as excitable and childish as the stuff that lurks, like a cupboard full of slanderous skeletons, in the depths of my hotmail account.

I should tighten up the security on that thing. Just in case.


*not her real name, in case you hadn't guessed - her name had more syllables and vowels and suchlike.