A couple of weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my one and only novel, Eponymous, is now available in an e-book format. This unexpected news inspired me to do something I have never actually done: read my own 350-page book from beginning to end, the way that normal readers would experience it. I’m about 80% through the novel at this point, and I’m actually enjoying it and finding it something of a page-turner, since there are whole chunks of the book, and numerous characters and situations, that I had completely forgotten about since I prepared the final proof copy of the book in the summer of 2001. I obviously know how it ends already, but the literary path from beginning to conclusion includes twists and turns that had completely fled my forebrain over the years, so it’s been enjoyable to have a lot of “Oh, yeah, that!” moments as I’ve clicked through the eBook I bought for four bucks.
Does it sound weird to you that I’ve never read the novel from beginning to end, or that I’ve forgotten big chunks of it? I am thinking that it might, to folks who don’t write as much as I do (and that’s probably 95% of the humans on the planet today, realistically speaking). I mean, I obviously read every word in the book, at least once, as I typed it, but I did not write the book’s chapters in the order that they appeared in their final format, and I spent a lot of time taking what was originally two unrelated short stories and expanding them and knitting them into a coherent narrative, and then building a back story that made character interactions seem (to me, at least) natural, so when I felt like all of the pieces of the puzzle were put together, I just gave it to other people to edit, and never read the whole text from start to finish. Given this fact, it actually holds together better a decade on than I would have expected it to, so I think I got lucky in that regard.
I’m guessing that the “I forgot what I wrote” element may also feel alien (if not affected or precious) to folks who don’t write as often and obsessively as I do. I’m used to that forgeting piece, though, since I have been writing in so many outlets, for so many years, that to retain all of those words and all of those ideas and all of those stories in my frontal loaf would probably result in me being a far less functional human being that I strive to be on a daily basis. When I first set up Indie Moines and pulled a bunch of my old online archives dating back to 1995 into a single site, there were literally hundreds of posts that I had completely forgotten, while others still burned bright in my conscious mind, for whatever reason. I occasionally pull out my records from my 2004 Poem a Day Project, and am pleasantly surprised by some of the pieces that didn’t speak to me at the time, but resonate now, while some of the things that I thought were fantastic in 2004 haven’t held up quite as well. Seeing your own things through fresh eyes, even if they are your own (only older), isn’t a bad experience, really.
In addition to the things I’ve forgotten over the years, there are also probably hundreds of thousands of words (literally) that I have lost throughout my life. I remember writing a piece of historical fiction about Lady Jane Grey in seventh grade, that my teachers thought was fantastic, though I don’t have it any more. I won a statewide poetry contest in 11th grade for a poem that I can no longer recall or reproduce. I wrote for military base and school newspapers through most of my high school years, and have very few of those pieces anymore. In college, I kept journals and lyric books, all of them long lost to basement floods or household goods moving catastrophies. I did what I consider to be some of my best writing work anonymously for many years on a series of websites in Albany, the vast majority of which have also disappeared into the (Upstate) ether. On some plane, it’s more painful to remember things I’ve created, and not be able to access them, than it is to just forget about stuff I’ve done, occasionally being pleasantly surprised when I stumble across it again, years later.
Does it sound arrogant for me to say that I am enjoying reading my own writing? It shouldn’t, because the relationship of a serious, high-volume writer to his or her many, many own words is less akin to something that occurs in a Self Appreciation Society or a Cult of Personality than it is to something that occurs as the Worm Ourobouros eats its own tail in the privacy of some dark, necrotic grove. The tail meat may taste good at first when the Worm starts nibbling it . . . but the longer and harder the Worm chews on it, and the more it swallows, the less enjoyable (and healthy) the self-eating experience is likely to become.
So I’m glad to have this one chance to read Eponymous straight through in its entirety, and I doubt that I will ever do so again. Fortunately, though, at least the print and eBook editions of the book mean that I will never have to regret losing it, as I have with so many other pieces . . . and that’s very comforting on a variety of planes!