After I’d written my last post – some time ago now – I realised parts of it were repeating things I’d said before. I’m sure you know how easy it is, or at least you will if you’re over a certain age. If this blog had been a continuous piece like a novel it would have been easier to spot, but as it was I blithely put up my new ideas, only to find they weren’t. The post wasn’t a word-for-word repetition – more like variations on a theme – but still it was less original than I would have liked. But then originality is hard to come by if what you’re doing is writing down your thoughts. I don’t know about yours, but mine have always had a habit of repeating themselves.
Nor long ago an old friend sent me the beginning of a story about porridge. Yes, that’s right – porridge. She thought I’d made it up, I thought she had, but either way the plan was that I would finish it. As a story it’s too ludicrous – deliberately so – to be made public, but I had great fun writing it and didn’t mind too much that the writing itself wasn’t very brilliant. One of the problems the story faced was the repetition of the word ‘porridge’, for which – so far as I’m aware – there is no exact synonym. OK, I know Americans call it oatmeal, but to us oatmeal is the raw ingredient, not the substance itself. But being forced to repeat a word in a single piece for lack of viable others is not the same as finding you’ve repeated ideas and phrases from one piece to another. It’s less shaming, certainly: more a question of craft than memory.
Although I’ve probably been repeating myself for most of my life, when I do it now I can’t help being more conscious that age may be playing a part. I’ve always been forgetful in certain ways – I leave things on trains, for instance – but I have noticed that in the past few years the number of times I’ve ‘lost’ something because I’ve forgotten where I’ve put it has increased rather alarmingly and, more unusual for me, I’ve sometimes been unable to remember the name of a person or place. Or got it wrong, which for someone who is fairly pedantic is not good news. Until recently I persisted in calling Shaldon (a lovely village just across the estuary from Teignmouth) Slatford – I think because of the similar letters – and didn’t understand the puzzled looks I got. Likewise – worse, really – I was talking to someone the other day about a mutual acquaintance and realised afterwards, having again got a rather puzzled look, that I’d given the person the name of somebody quite different. I confess I do have a habit of attributing names to people according to their appearance – I rather shocked a friend once by saying I was sure a particular William ought to be a Peter – but I seem to have become more likely these days to believe in my own attributions. Perhaps it’s easier to hold on to them as it becomes harder to remember the real ones.
I don’t know exactly why repeating myself should feel more shameful than getting people’s names wrong, since the latter is far more likely to cause offence. Perhaps it is more obviously something that old people do. Not that I’m so very old, I hasten to add, and anyway what’s wrong with being old? It’s just something that happens if you’re still alive after a certain number of years, though obviously the extent and nature of the ageing process is a highly individual matter. No, what feels awful about repeating oneself is that it’s boring. People lose interest and don’t want to know. My last blog post didn’t get many ‘like’s, and although I don’t know the reason (see previous posts) I immediately suspected it was because I’d repeated myself – not only that, but actually told friends on Facebook that I’d repeated myself. (I don’t think I’d hire me as a publicist, somehow.) So in this post I’ve made a concerted effort not to repeat things I’ve said before. Whether I’ve been successful remains to be seen. I suspect it’s less original, more like other things I’ve written, than I realise.
I don’t think I would have written this piece at all had I not felt a need to apologise for my sins of repetition. Yes, I have repeated myself, it’s saying, but at least I know I’ve repeated myself: the self-editor hasn’t completely gone AWOL. And after all this is only a blog, and far too ephemeral to get all literary about. Even if they’re not repetitious, some pieces are bound to be better and more interesting than others. Just wait and see what the next one’s like…