Finding what you were

As the continuous period of unemployment remains in its perverse streak, I have used some of my ample free time revising and looking back at the writings I have done. Included in the group of a surprisingly considerably long list of essays, I have been proofreading 5 pieces that I can call books, but which, if honesty is to be applied or professional writers and editors were to look at them, could also be defined as literary attempts. I find myself at times wondering about some paragraph here, a sentence there, or even an entire section that I believe is not totally unworthy of introspection, an idea here and there that may not be totally shameful to share with others.

However, as I revisited what I must call my first piece of fiction, I find myself inevitably looking not only at what was written, but at the young man that made the effort. I am a person with a peculiar and faulty memory, defective in that it is incredibly sharp and poignant at remembering the bad; if the saying that forgetting the bad things in life is having a good memory, my remembrance of my past is painfully terrible. It is at times way too vivid and, as I can read myself again, gets triggered in exquisite detail, perhaps too clear for my own sake.

The book in question is an attempt at a dystopian future, another try by an uninformed writer about the realities of what is to come. To begin with, the original sin is there: the book is set in the “distant” future of the year 2050, which obviously at the time of my writing was an era which I deemed unreachable. Yet, here it is, staring at us around a time-scale corner that is approaching rapidly. By now, it is not only unthinkable to play with the idea that I may make it there, it is desirable. The dryness of old age gets adjusted by the realization that, specially for the faithless, “old age” is certainly better than “no-age” and the idea of “I will not be there” comes with peculiar trepidations.

But then, the sadness of adolescence pours intrepidly into the writing, the certainty that things will be worse once “our” youth is the one that is gone. With no research done at the time, and no real information about what the world was to become, the pessimism wins the day, leaving a story that tells me more about what I was than what I was thinking. In a peculiar exercise, in which I can be both guilty part and critic because of the time-distance through which I am looking at myself, I can look at that young person and pass judgement and feel sorry, simultaneously.

An interesting part is the literary skills displayed in the writing. Certainly, I was at the time reading way too much Vonnegut and the style shows so, as the pastiche of ideas and the cacophony of the prose is a pale attempt to attain that balance stricken by Master Kurt, a process at which I fail with no safety net underneath. The attempts to picture a dire future but in a humorous way is salvaged only at the end, when I am able to write more like myself than by myself drunk. The book is not tedious per se but it fails in one sincere aspect: it starts way worse than it ends, which it is not in itself bad unless one dreams of publication and editorial success. Nobody continues reading a book by an unknown believing that the final destination will justify the road, and therefore an entire half of the book would need mending, if not complete deletion and substitution at the very least.

Although ingenious in some ways, I found correcting myself again and again; why did I insert a part here, how come I did not see the logical contradictions there?  But I, of course, had the key to decipher that. I was, after all, me, and I can remember what I was, even if in some distorted way. Of course the hero, or rather, the protagonist, would be of the “anti” type, of course he would be pedantic and at the same time, accessible. Non-violent by nature, of course I would have him get into trouble not by what he would do, but by what he would say. And of course, in the end, he would be helpless to fix what he had not even started, but felt responsible for. In that aspect, that young man behind the keyboard of the past showed considerable humbleness, showed at least a modicum of understanding of his limitations.

But an interesting question keeps roaming my head. If I were to meet myself, myself from the past, would I have liked him? And, perhaps, more importantly, would he had liked me? Woven inside the narrative of the book there are political thoughts and social ideas that I can tell have changed and, of course, how could I judge which idea is correct? Would the senior persona judge the young one to be too naïve, would the young one judge the elder to be too strict, of having become, as I was recently deemed by a friend that has decided she no longer will be one, a “hard ass”? With a gap of some twenty years in between the writing and this encounter, can I say that the new me is a development of the old me, or would I say it is simply a deterioration? Did I grow up, or did I grow old? As similar as the ideas are, they are not the same and can be, in some people, total opposites.

I am hesitant on whether to edit the book completely; by now I know it will never be published so there are no financial or editorial pressures, but on the other hand, if I can improve it, why not? Because I feel that, in a sense, “I” did not write it. Do I owe it to that young man of 22 years ago the respect of not changing his words, not changing his ideas, accepting him for what he was? Or should he be schooled in the realities of the world?

A couple of years ago, in another joke that unfortunately, as is my penchant, becomes way too true to remain funny any longer, I came up with the idea that I started the process of stopping being an asshole when I was around 35. That would mean that the book was written at my peak of idiocy, or naivety. But the punchline remains the same. I started stopping being an asshole around the age of 35. I only hope I will have enough time to complete that process.