Any artist with any longevity is bound to look back on their past works with some trepidation.
We are all fallible meat robots with cobbled together wetware wired to faulty sensory apparatus. Even if you’re more prone to spiritualism (however you wish to define it) the truth that we are all little tiny slivers of experience trying to make sense of a universe more vast and unknowable than we like to acknowledge.
One of the ways humans deal with change, either in ourselves or our world, is by simply not noticing it. If we were slightly more bigoted in our past, we downplay it. If we denied an obvious truth, we pretend like we never did. The past is mostly an abstraction. It’s easy to just ignore it. It’s easy to revise.
Being an artist is a little different in that you leave reflections of who you are for the whole world to see. It’s easy for someone to read an older book of mine and form opinions of who I am now. It’s not entirely unwarranted. Who we were shapes who we become, but also, a reader is experiencing books I wrote years in the past now. Their present is meeting my past, and how those two reconcile varies immensely.
I can’t speak for all writers, but while I have fondness for my older books, the more time between when I wrote them and now, the more alien they become. I know they’re mine. I know I wrote them. But the person that I was then is not necessarily the person I am now. I wouldn’t say any book I’ve written is a radical departure of who I am now, but there’s still a growing emotional and intellectual gulf as the years pass.
This isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve come to love some of my older books in a way that I wasn’t equipped to love them when I was younger. There are pieces of wisdom in my older books that I find almost prescient in how they relate to my life today. It’s past me reaching out to talk to present me. And that’s what makes writing so rewarding and perilous.
The danger with having a concrete past, even one found in old books, is that it’s easy to find your past self transformed into an anchor, reaching out from the past to keep you from growing. After all, if past you wasn’t a bad person then why should future you be different?
Before social media came along, most of us didn’t have to worry about that. Did you love a fad in the past? So what? Maybe there’s a couple of old photograph somewhere of you in your parachute pants (I’m old), but you didn’t write down on a giant electronic bulletin board about how much you adore parachute pants and how they’re here to stay. Give you parachute pants or give you death! Anyone who doesn’t appreciate parachute pants is an uncultured philistine.
But with the internet, we’re able to catalogue and record our every minor and major thought, our fandoms, our hatedoms, etc. Recent controversies with Facebook have brought up the way it divides us. One of the elements the media and researches have overlooked is that social media isn’t designed to just keep us engaged. It’s a constant reminder of who we were, and a constant pressure to not change.
Conspiracy theories thrive in such environments because every time a person is ready to move on and start forgetting about that nonsense, there’s another post reminding them that “Hey, here’s something you believe!” And since it comes from a respected source (often your past self) it’s easy to accept.
If you’ve spent the last eight years posting about parachute pants while reposting every article that talks about how only cannibals like bike shorts, social media is happy to remind you daily that this is your position and that it is perfectly reasonable and that to believe otherwise is the act of a wishy-washy hypocrite.
There’s a trend where liberal edgy artists transform into conservative edgy artists over time. Art doesn’t always age well. Even the most progressive expressions can become dated over time. That’s just the way it is, and every artist has to accept it. Or not. A lot of progressive artists can’t take this. Their most famous and once lauded endeavors can age poorly. It takes a lot of personal effort to accept that. Many simply can’t, and rather than accepting this, they turn their energies toward attacking a world that has perhaps moved past them.
I’m not saying I’ll be any different. It’s folly to make that prediction. Talk to me in twenty years if I’m still fortunate enough to be making a living doing this and relevant enough to have my older works discussed.
None of this changes that the world is constantly changing, and who you were doesn’t have to define who you will become. Changing your views simply for your own benefit is hypocrisy, but actually growing and evolving yourself is becoming a better person.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT, WRITING THE GOOD WRITE,