by JIM KNIPFEL
November 27, 2016
As Arthur Bremer supposedly wrote in his supposed diary, ďIrony abounds.Ē
Earlier this year I wrote a column about my ongoing efforts to erase my past, admitting it had become a much trickier business in the Internet age. Two, three decades back it was much easier. Before I started writing all I had to do was shred or burn all my correspondence, bills, records of any kind before moving to a new city and that was enough to eradicate any paper trail proving I ever lived in that place at that time. Even after I started writing, the newspapers and magazines I wrote for were utterly disposable, with each new story forgotten or discarded days after it appeared. Unless some nut job somewhere was clipping and saving the stories in a scrapbook, there was no lasting record anywhere but in the dusty archives of assorted publications, and who the hell was going to go pawing through those? But with the advent of the Internet, everything ever posted exists somewhere, and exists eternally in digital form. Those nude selfies you sent through Instagram, those drunken racist anti-midget rants you posted on your blog, that YouTube video of you and your pals beating and robbing the Chinese†delivery guy are all out there, just waiting to be uncovered by a future employer or the cops. Twenty years from now when youíre looking for yet another job, theyíll still be out there, haunting you.
††††††††††† Or so the thinking goes, right? But the jokeís on me as usual.
††††††††††† Apart from the archives housed in some local university library, everything I wrote during my six and a half year stretch at the Welcomat in Philly essentially vanished when the paper became The Philadelphia Weekly in 1993, years before anyone had even heard of the World Wide Web. Thanks to a failed floppy disc (remember those?) I now only have a tiny handful of those hundreds of stories on my machine here, and thanks to advances in computer technology, I can no longer open any of the files. I started writing for the New York Press immediately after leaving the Welcomat, but the Press didnít go online until 1997, so again, apart from the hard copies which may or may not be stored someplace at this point, and apart from about fifty or so stories posted by an old friend on a site called missionCREEP.com, that first four years worth of materialóthe columns, reviews, features, interviews, news commentary, short human interest pieces, etc.óare nowhere to be found anymore. But everything after the paper went online is still out there someplace, right? Almost a decadeís worth of work for the Press?
††††††††††† Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! It seems that after the paper was sold twice, then folded, and especially after the domain name was auctioned off to raise some much-needed cash, all those earlier archived files were completely obliterated. Go take a look for yourself. Apart from assorted mentions here and there and a Wikipedia page attesting that the New York Press really did exist at some point, thereís not a peep, not a whisper of any of the original stories out there at all.
††††††††††† In between there were all those other things I wrote, for little magazines like B-Side, Hootenanny, and countless others whose names Iíve long forgotten that were here and gone before the dawn of the glorious digital age, so of course none of thatís out there, either.
††††††††††† Even after the Internet came around, though, Christ, things arenít much better. In 2013 I wrote some two hundred pieces for a website called Smashpipe before it went kablooey and everything was vaporized. When the site was revamped and revived in November of 2015, I gave them another fifty or sixty stories over the six-month run before it went kablooey all over again, taking everything with it into the void.
††††††††††† What it boils down to is this: Apart from the books and that smattering of stories posted on missionCREEP, virtually every scrap of work I did prior to 2006, when I started here at Electron Press, and a good deal of other work Iíve done since then, has been completely obliterated. Over a nearly thirty-year career at this point, that means two-thirds of everything Iíve written is gone forever, apart from my own rough drafts here (many of which I can no longer open). Ainít that a kick in the head? It is to me, anyway. Of course pre-Internet that would have simply been a given (though there was much more respect for print back then). After the Internet, well, itís like I might just as well have never existed. After all these years of trying to erase myself, the Big Fucking Joke of it is that everything I tried to get rid of, all the personal information and data, the financial and medical records, is all out there free for the picking, but most of what I kinda sorta hoped might stick around as I got older has been cremated and scattered to the four ethereal winds. Thousands and thousands of individual pieces, some of which werenít all that half-bad. All that time and all that memory, Jesus. Well, I guess there go my plans for the massive eight-volume collected works with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem. Yeah, life has a sick sense of humor that way.
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