Restriction, Revision, and the New Year

Even though technically the beginning of the year is just a moment in time, the start of a new year still feels like a big deal. For the past week, I’ve been doing everything in my power not to taint the fresh whiteness of 2016. Everything needs to stay perfect, from my handwriting to my hair.

Of course that’s a totally unrealistic approach to starting a new year, but it’s a practice I find myself falling into every January 1st (and on my birthday and at the beginning of each semester). I feel like a lot of typical New Years’ resolutions come from a negative place motivated by restriction rather than reflection. There’s this desire for abrupt change that’s fueled by this false idea of a clean slate. This year, I want to think about my goals in terms of revision. I’m not starting from scratch; I’m just making changes to a work-in-progress.

Like many teenage poets, I have pages and pages of really terrible poetry. In middle school, I wrote poems on pieces of paper ripped out of spiral notebooks and kept them folded in little squares in the pockets of the hoodies I wore every day. Once when it was snowing, I lost one of my poems because it fell out of my pocket, and the white lined paper blended into the snow, so, of course, I wrote about that catastrophic event. This was all very serious at the time, and I kept everything I wrote in a folder hidden at the bottom of one of my desk drawers. Just to make sure you know how serious this was, this is a poem I wrote in seventh grade:

Office Lens 20160107-162022

This is about the time in Family and Consumer Science when my cooking group defended me when I was going to get in trouble for someone else pouring macaroni into a sink. It was a truly emotional experience.

Looking back, though, much of what I wrote was obviously very ridiculous and exaggerated. That isn’t to say that my emotions weren’t “real” or that writing wasn’t a good outlet for them, but I’m very comfortable with the fact that my free verse poetry was pretty much absolute garbage. I don’t regret writing in that style, though, because it was how I learned how to write freely, to write exactly what I was thinking and feeling instead of muddying up the message with figurative language or contorting it to fit into a rhyme scheme. Around this same time, I was also really into writing historical poetry, specifically relating to the Holocaust and the French Revolution. My historical poems almost always had a rhyme scheme, and looking back now, I can see that I was definitely drawing on the style of Edgar Allan Poe to discuss darker, more violent topics.

Although I don’t love all of the poetic choices I’ve made over the years, it does make me feel better about myself to put it into perspective. I was trying to understand how I felt using techniques placed in front of me by other authors. Sure, maybe it wasn’t my brightest moment when I capitalized every noun so I could be like Emily Dickinson, but at least I tried.

Most of what I wrote in middle school is pretty much unsaveable. I’ve combed through poetry from that time trying to find something worth recycling, but, honestly, I’m pretty content with leaving the words I used to express myself in middle school firmly in the 00s. My high school poetry is a little bit different, though. There are moments worth stretching out and playing with, interesting phrases and wordings that deserve equally interesting frames. For example, take this:

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I’m pretty sure I thought good poetry had to be so abstract that no one could understand it. Unlike the Symbolists, I was not trying to make any actual point by this abstraction.

It’s not great, and I’m not sure what it’s about, but I love that silence is functioning like a red string meant to remind the speaker of something, that it gets weirdly meta in the third line, and that it uses a really conversational tone despite how bizarre it is. It’s not great, but it’s also not finished. I haven’t looked at this in probably three years, but sophomore-in-high-school me is totally inspiring sophomore-in-college me right now.

Time doesn’t fit neatly into calendar boxes; 2015 is over, but everything that happened last year and every year before that still affects everyone living in 2016. I’m working on revising the me of last year, but I’m also revising the me of yesterday and the me of an hour ago and the me of a sentence ago. It’s so much less scary to approach this year knowing that I’ve already laid the groundwork for everything I want to accomplish and that there are people available to help me from my professors to my parents to Gertrude Stein. And it doesn’t really matter that the way I write the letter s changes from word to word or that my hair is perpetually frizzy, but it would be nice if that weren’t the case.

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One thought on “Restriction, Revision, and the New Year

  1. Pingback: Adventure Awaits | The SAS Honors Program Blog

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