Monday, May 30, 2011

Unfinished Highways

You know what's really painful? To read something you wrote 15 years earlier. I find it painful to read things I wrote a week ago, always thinking of things that I could have said better. But 15 years ago, coming from someone you know intimately, but who has changed over time, it is difficult. In some ways, though, reading fiction from someone gives the most honesty, even if you didn't know it at the time.

I came across some old writing from my college fiction writing class tucked away in an old folder. It's now on yellowing paper (originally written on a word processor, has it been that long?). I either forgot or didn't know how to put a page number on them, because at the bottom, the pages are written in hand.

The first was Still Regretting George Bush, which has nothing to do with politics and pre-dated the Presidency of W. It was based on two lifelong friends, one of whom was an expert in figuring out what famous person everyone looked like. Right before they left for college, the narrator and his friend got into a fight over whether a guy wearing a flannel shirt really did look like Dana Carvey portraying George Bush.

The style was meandering and at times dated with all the cultural references, but I can definitely see similarities to my writing style now. As for what was underneath, well, I see the insecurities of the 21-year old me, recognizing he had talent but also wishing to be more assertive, more open and honest with people, before things go too far.

Then there was Unfinished Highways, a story about four friends graduating from college who decide, in a spur of the moment decision, to spend the summer driving around on highways numbered 1-100, just to see where it takes them. The narrator doesn't want the journey to end, doesn't want real life to begin. The friends have to convince him that they aren't going to make it to 100, because they will run out of money, and have to get back to what they are doing after graduation.

Man, that story shows just how conflicted I was coming out of college, a Biology degree with a goal of going to med school, but not really driven to do that. I couldn't really be honest with myself about what I wanted in person, but the fictional me recognized that he wanted to keep chasing highways. The story itself was pretty painful for me to re-read, because it was so raw. The theme for the narrator character was about how he was living his life for others and not himself, something it took me lots of pain and time to come to grips with in my own life story. If I had been more self-aware, I would have realized that a) my favorite class in college was creative writing, not the sciences that I took, and b) the things I did for free, working for the football team in college on the video staff, developing my own power rankings and analysis, hinted at where my passions lay. I would have also, from my word processor, foreseen the rise of the internet and combined all three.

Oh well, 15 years later, there are still plenty of unfinished highways ahead.

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