We forget what we leave behind. Milestones, exhortations, fair-weather friends. Good writing can memorialise the debris, but it too has a tendency to fall behind. Lavosier’s principles apply equally to words and hand-made birthday cards. When I look myself up on the Internet, I see at least seven cached personalities gradually receding in smugness and hair length. There’s a school captain who takes his primary responsibilities very seriously, as well as musician allegedly making racist comments about the French. It only takes two iterations for a budding young writer to resemble the gin-sardonic pen-for-hire he once thought cool. Like the soldiers sent by Mars’ governor to contain his Californian equivalent, it’s hard to tell what’s real. We think Descartes enlightened, but he never had to study Stoppard in English 2.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Take one part steel and four parts concrete, and you can end up with anything from Atlantis to a Fortune 500 corporation. I sometimes have trouble distinguishing my reader’s smile from the :)’s in her text messages, or the ones sinking fast into the loam of my subconscious. The characters in my mentor’s latest novel are composed almost solely from their trace elements, and I’m struggling to apply myself after months spent grazing exclusively on 500-word opinion columns. Reverting to a cached version might do the trick, but it’s not yet worth running the risk of irrevocably corrupting time and space.
We write ourselves into existence. I often wondered about the practicalities of English lessons until one teacher yelled at us after an hour trying to guess a poem’s subtext, “You’re not reading! Read!” It’s often easier to conjure up someone’s letters than their smile or the softness in their eyes, but doing so bears its own risks to time and space. Good characterisation requires the writer to capture a certain wholeness of being but without any idiosyncratic loss. Take one person and infinite perspectives, and you end up with a story or a funeral. We leave behind what others will remember.