Tuesday, March 07, 2006

With the benefit of hindsight

Sarah and I have been reorganizing our house to give me a better office area to work in. We are trying to eliminate all my excuses for not being able to work well on my classes and job. I sit at the computer and feel deranged and unproductive for a long time, then go back to family stuff. It hasn't mattered whether I occupy the RA lab or work at home. So we cleaned out a lot of crap and got rid of my cluttered, cramped desk, in exchange for a beautiful dinner table we had in storage. I think it's made a big difference already.

In the midst of cleaning, I finally resolved to organize my personal papers. It's not too hard. I bought a hundred page protectors and a couple of binders, got out a few mini legal pads, then started annotating my life.

It has become easier with the benefit of hindsight. Now I can throw away papers I can't figure out any more; basically I toss something if I can stare at it for a few minutes without coming up with an insightful annotation tying it into the larger picture. And if I can't remember why it was important, I just let it go. I've been reading names and identifying handwriting that I haven't thought of for ten years. I've gotten to read snapshots of myself that I can't recognize, and memories as vivid as the day I made them.

I've learned, slowly, that I was a real yutz when I was talking to girls in high school; jointly written notes I saved show me talking to Girl A about Girls B and C, then to Girl D about Girls A and E. Sometimes I think it was out of congenial familiarity that they put up with all this careless talk; I can see other times that it annoyed them. And I was completely wrapped up in myself then. Re-visioning myself so clearly has been a pretty wild thing, but honest this time around. It doesn't help that I might as well be a stranger to that other me, at times.

I thank God today that I never sent some of the letters I have reread, as fatuous and puerile and selfish as they are. And then there are a couple I wish I had sent. I avoided living with the consequences of the former by strangling the latter. It was a fearful way to live. I'm also reminded, as if I needed reminding, that I've been writing fragments of poems and stories for a long long time, and that it wouldn't be terrible for me to keep at it. Some of it is real crap, but some of it is still good, which is practically a miracle.

I wonder if this stuff can really acquire a backbone, or even a chronology. If I can't even remember what I was doing in 1997 and sort out the dates, it's not like anyone else can. I wonder if I can take my neatly compartmentalized lives and mush them together again. And I don't just mean emails on my computer, love letters and artifacts and poems and drawings in my papers, four diaries and a few other little books. These papers have certain local attractors, threads of relationships that fit into these old personal narratives I made up and followed faithfully for years. I wonder if all the work will go anywhere, if it will mean anything to anyone but me. After all, I'm going to die, sooner or later, and my memories will wash away in the tide.

The first fifty sheets felt like a well dug into my heart, though, so I guess I'm in for another fifty.

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