I'm feeling nostalgic today. Perhaps it was the rain yesterday and today, which kept me inside staring at my computer and feeling morose, or perhaps it's because I just finished the first draft of another novel and now I have time to let my mind wander in a different way.
My nostalgia around writing takes one of two forms--thinking about my earlier work and recalling those who helped me along the way, beginning with teachers from way back when. Today I'm thinking mostly about the stories from years ago that were never published.
I have dozens of stories and articles locked in limbo on floppy disks. A couple of years ago I got a disk reader for my iBook, but it would only read disks of a certain color (black was in, everything else was out). Granted, these disks are old and the work stored on them older still but I was curious to find what was there. The titles on the labels didn't ring any bells, and the one or two articles I really wanted to find weren't listed on the labels. I had recently had a request for an article I'd written and discussed on a panel, so I set about finding it. I couldn't find a paper copy, but I knew I had a backup. After all this looking, all I can say is, I believe I did at one time have a backup.
My confidence in digital records was never very great, and it diminishes with each passing year. I have stacks of floppies with once treasured work that I will probably never see again in any form, having thrown away paper copies for the blissful delusion of preserving rare storage space by relying on disks. I have two old backup systems that I never use now--and I would need a different attachment to read them. My MacBook Air needs an attachment for just about everything.
Work composed before I got a computer is still accessible because the paper hasn't yet turned to dust, so I occasionally come across something I wrote in my teens and twenties and even into my thirties. Two things catch my eye. First, there's an occasional phrase or insight that feels new to me and I ponder this and think about reusing it. Second, the earlier nonfiction pieces have an underlying confidence that amuses me--this is youth at its most obvious and annoying.
I once decided to rework an earlier (much, much earlier) story and began by ruthlessly cutting out everything that was mediocre, unimaginative, a cliche, etc. After a few hours of this--rereading, cutting, rethinking--I was left with two paragraphs I considered acceptable. I still don't know what to do with them, but the experience taught me how much my writing has changed over the years.
Except for the days when I have a little extra time on my hands, or it's raining like a monsoon, I rarely think about my old work. It's done, published or put away, and no longer relevant to what I'm doing now. I'm one who believes that life is a series of rooms that we should inhabit fully as we pass through, then turn off the light as we leave and move on. I may never find out what's on those old floppies, but I know I'll never care beyond a mild curiosity, and if they're stacked on the desk when I have a wastebasket in my hand, they may disappear and I will never think about them again.