I have on my website a body of writing going back nearly 30 years. I went through a phase about a decade ago of purging almost everything written prior to 2008, but have relented on that and put much of it back (though about 800 drafts remain in limbo, awaiting reconsideration).
The decision to purge was founded on a need to disassociate myself from opinions, positions and states of mind I no longer relate to. Since then, I think I’ve become more mellow, and thus more capable of forgiving my youthful self. I think I now feel that it’s important to maintain a record of where I once was, even if I no longer relate to those views at all.
It’s true that someone might come across something I wrote two decades ago and believe it representative of my thoughts today. However, I think that risk is minimal, for everything is time stamped. If I could age stamp them too, perhaps that would make me less likely to cringe reading back what once I wrote.
I was contacted by a reader quite a few years ago who petitioned me not to purge my earlier writing. That was mostly because they were a similar age then to my age when I wrote them, and felt they could relate to all I was saying. “Keep it,” they told me, “it’s exactly what I need right now.”
I may have briefly relented for that individual, but this is a general problem with getting older: as our worldview matures, so we find ourselves embarrassed by all we said in the past. But perhaps it’s important to recognize that everyone is at a different stage in life. No doubt my own views will continue to evolve and morph as the years pass by. Will I then purge all that I wrote today?
Well, we probably already know the answer to that. I have a long history of self-censorship, deleting all that I wrote just last week in a fit of regret, sometimes putting it back, sometimes not. So of course it remains to be seen how the unpurge pans out by life’s end.
For now, the lucky digital archeologist has a partial archive spanning twenty-eight years to mine for clues. Alas, whatever I scribbled on a piece of paper is long gone. Zines I created on an Amstrad PCW and later in Serif PagePlus exist in binary stasis, inaccessible due to obsolete software and operating systems. So a partial archive of my soul, warts and all.
Here that perennial argument within: to purge or unpurge. To forgive myself, or obliterate all it once put forth.