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Through my own back pages, I met my younger self

TARA HARDY/The Globe and Mail

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They say that 40 is the new 20, but it is a very strange thing when your early-40s self meets your early-20s self.

I used to write a lot of poetry back then: the typical angst-ridden, take-on-the-world fare as well as the pining, twist-in-the-wind love stuff. The kind you would just as soon forget.

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Still, there were a few good ones in the mix, and my dear brother, a librarian by profession who had started a desktop publishing company, produced a very small anthology of my work along with that of two other women.

It certainly wasn't about money, which is good, for we would not have made any. But as a librarian, my publisher did have the wherewithal to get the book into circulation at a smattering of city and university libraries around North America.

Not long after, I found myself ensconced in the working world and I stopped writing poetry. Ladder climbing and the acquisition of things seemed more appealing after student life, and I lost the inclination to wax poetic almost entirely, outside of the many speeches I wrote for others. But nary a couplet entered my mind.

I had all but forgotten about the book until I Googled myself one day.

I admit that I Google people and other subjects all the time. Why not? It's all right there, and while I have learned to take the results with a grain of salt, it is a quick and dirty way to get the scoop on someone or something.

Speaking of quick and dirty, my Google search results on my own name never cease to amaze me. For a time, exotic-lady-friend ads would often appear, apparently due to my semi-exotic first name. They eventually went away.

Then, more recently, cyberspace put me together with a very handsome and rather scantily clad guy sitting on a chair with a big come-hither smile. I do not know this gent in the biblical sense or any other, but there he was.

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Along with Mr. Handsome were multiple pages of links to the little poetry book for sale – in theory, at least, because it is seemingly impossible to find in stock – from the biggest book retailers to the smallest online corner bookstore you've never heard of.

In the age of Internet, you can run but you cannot hide when your name is attached to an ISBN, even if the publishing company is long gone and the book is quite literally out of print.

The array of references made me realize it was time to reacquaint myself with what I had written, particularly when I saw that a certain Ivy League university had a copy of the book in its holdings. At first I thought, "Wow! Cool!" Then I started to panic because I had only the foggiest memory of what the heck I had written in my youthful exuberance.

After unsuccessfully digging through box after box for my hard copy, I made an appointment to view the book at one of its homes – the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

The exquisite irony? I had spent hundreds of hours in the mind-numbingly bland interior of the adjacent, monolithic Robarts Library while completing my graduate degree, and had no idea that this piece of my past was quietly waiting to be rediscovered just a short jaunt away, in far prettier environs.

It was kind of fun to arrange a research visit to see my own book. I even had to apply for a new library card for the purpose; it had been many years since I'd done that as well.

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The librarian handed me a file folder, and taking a seat at the reading desk, I clicked on the overhead lamp. There it was in all of its still-pristine-1992-pink-cardstock-and-fledgling-computer-graphics glory.

I expected to smile, and to cringe, and I did; what I did not expect was to feel such a dramatic rush of emotion to the point – yes, I do confess – of tears.

It was like cracking open a long-lost diary as I looked through the lens of my former self at the hopes, dreams and perspectives of half a lifetime ago.

I knew more at 20 than I would have thought, and the youthful me taught the older me a few things about the purity of expression. The beauty now is that my 40s self is wise enough to learn from my 20s self.

I took up poetry writing again a little while back, when the compulsion hit me again. Now I write primarily from experience rather than expectation, but it is difficult to say which of the two vantage points is more poetic. While there is a certainty and a truth in writing about what I now know firsthand, I have had to work harder at rekindling the dreams not yet realized.

Seeing the book has even inspired me to consider forgoing the battle with the silver highlights that are showing up with increasing frequency in my hair.

Instead of vanquishing these reminders of my acquired wisdom, I might just call a truce.

There is a poem in each and every one.

LouAnn Buhrows lives in Toronto.

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