I was, perhaps, more productive in high school than during any other era. For years, I could hardly look at the marble composition books that I clutched to my chest between classes. I knew that the wide-ruled pages contained embarrassing stuff. Drawings of mermaids. Vampire poetry. Some very earnestly-written political posters whose memory, for decades, made me cringe.
But when I sat down with these books, so well-loved that their covers were held on by stickers and tape, I was surprised by what I found. Sure, there was all the emo posturing that I remembered--corny Johnny the Homicidal Maniac-inspired comics, for instance, which I sold to my classmates at twenty-five cents an issue. Sure, most of my writing--particularly the epic fantasy about a one-horned mercenary--was overwritten. One story began:
The sun was just sinking below the Releitae Mountains when Jance Atherlorn arrived in Pyrenia, the place of fireand then proceeded, for four pages, to reiterate exactly how hot "Pyrenia" really was, without touching on any type of characterization but Jance Atherlorn's "pale dust colored eyes."
But now that I have more than a decade on my old high school self, I can see, too, how charming a lot of it is. There were sparkling bits of dialogue in a story about a girl named Portia Dalton and a shapeshifting crow named Vincent Crowe. Another story was surprisingly well-timed.
Fourteen years later, I feel almost as if another person wrote these stories--but she's a person who had quite a bit of potential. Why couldn't I see it then? Why did I tear so many stories out of my notebooks when they didn't come out perfect on the first draft, or cross out sketches and write "BAD! BAD DRAWING!" in the margins beside them? Why, for years, did the memory of my art make me cringe, embarrassed?
Why am I sometimes hard on myself in exactly the same ways now?
When I was in middle school, I became convinced, after seeing a picture of myself, that I had chubby knees. I spent a whole, sweltering summer refusing to wear shorts. I saw the same photo a few years ago. The funny thing is that I didn't even notice my legs. I saw, instead, the width of my smile--how happy I was standing beside my best friend, giving her bunny ears, grinning through my braces.
It's an important reminder, I think, of how hard we can be on ourselves at times, in terms of art and our bodies and the people we once were. But in retrospect, I'm not embarrassed by my former self at all. In fact, I wouldn't mind giving her a great big hug.
How has your perspective on your writing changed with time?