memento mori

Some of you know that I’ve kept a paper journal for the last 35+ years. With a mechanical pencil I hand write entries into spiral notebooks with some college name/logo on the cover. In the early years, before I could have ever imagined the scope of my endeavor, I didn’t date the entries. But soon enuf I did. Then I began putting the time of day beside each entry since I was often hustling to my journal to get down whatever brilliant thought I’d had when untethered to it. Some entries might be a sentence or two. Others could go on for pages. And while I might make three and even four entries in a day, I could also go weeks without one. Still the words accumulated, and I am now on journal number 28 (from Syracuse University, where my clever nephew attended).

I will likely never go back and read my journals. A lot of it is probably embarrassingly immature or focused on some event/issue of the time that is no longer pertinent. Any given brilliant idea is lost within a hundred quotidian thoughts. There isn’t a search function in paper journals. My middle son has stated that when I am gone (not too soon, I hope) he intends to read my journals from start to finish. (Consider what a dampening effect this has on my entries once I realize someone I know will be reading them.) He was never much of a reader growing up, and now his job (and daughter) demands most of his time, and any reading he does should be in his field (oncology). I also suspect he’ll get bored quickly with my entries and skip a lot of it.

My point is that I have all of these journals that will likely never amount to anything other than ash after some cleansing campfire. I don’t suppose I would mind that too much as long as it was a campfire at my cabin.

Similarly, a couple of decades ago, I was busy as a freelancer writing feature articles for magazines and newspapers — back in the days of print. I wrote more than sixty of these things before I gave up the ambition. (I gave up in part because I could never break into the slicks and in part because I realized that in my ten years of effort I had produced the equivalent of what one cub reporter would produce in a single year. Plus there’s no money in it.) Nonetheless, I have kept a copy of every publication that ran one of my articles. The stack sits on a shelf within arm’s reach of me as I write this. And yet, I will never go back and read these things. Nor will anyone else. It’s possible that the stack I have holds one of the few existing copies of the publications — and thus my articles — available in the physical world. Yet I can’t part with them.

And it continues. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become an authority in the literature of the Midwest. (There is actual scholarship devoted to this!) I read widely (but not widely enuf), and I even began collecting books. But I saw that my subject was too vast, so I tightened my focus to the literature of Missouri. But even that was too vast. So I tightened it further to the literature of the Ozarks (a vast and satisfying literature of its own). In the glass-fronted bookcase across the room from me I have books I have collected for this ambition. Some I have were published in the 19th Century and are likely among the few existing copies in the physical world. As with my journals and my feature articles, I am unlikely to read them again (since creating my own literature is now my interest). Yet I can’t part with them. The thrill of the chase — finding a long-sought novel — means I can never dispose of them. My children will get that job. (I just hope they have the sense to find out if there is some collector or a library that would want them.)

And it still continues. I’m looking at a rack of medals I’ve earned from the half and full marathons I’ve run. (The NYC Marathon medal is my all-time favorite, natch!) I have another rack of medals from “lesser” races. Dozens of these things that will mean nothing to anyone other than me. What’s to become of them? Since no one ran the race inside my head, the medals won’t have any specific meaning to them. I don’t suppose the metal of the medals is even high grade enuf to be good for melting down. (And I currently have two drawers packed with shirts I’ve earned from races. This does not even count the tech shirts from races that I have hanging in a closet.) This will all mean nothing to anyone after me.

nyc-marathon-medal

(Gratuitous photo insertion.)

And consider my dead blog: Roundrock Journal. I kept that thing going for more than ten years, the first five years with a post every single day. Now it is lost (though I think you can find it through the Wayback Machine — I should try it myself). It existed and consumed a great deal of my creative self, and yet it is gone.

And so what is the point of this ramble? I’m not sure myself. I guess the ephemeral nature of existence or some such lofty thoughts. The traces we leave without even noticing? The accumulation of stuff?

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3 Comments on “memento mori


  1. I think about the accumulation of stuff and what happens to it when I’m gone. Cynthia and I have no children, but my niece may want to go through things. I don’t know. But I’m also compelled to not let some things go.

    I have notebooks from college that I know I will never go back through in full. A couple drawers crammed full of story starts and stops, and typed and printed versions of stories from back when I had no means of simply saving a backup to my compute (and now, to the cloud).

    Because we live in a small space, I’m now aware of “stuff” as it accumulates. I’ve parted with most of my books because there’s no room. With Christmas approaching, I hope for books I can read and pass on and consumable things, like a bottle of scotch I’d never buy on my own. (One needs fuel for reading during the colder months, after all.)

    My wife is an artist, and digital creation is not her thing. So there is more stuff. I once watched her throw away two garbage bags full of art. It was mostly rough sketches that became finished work, but there was a fair amount of finished work in the piles as well. (She no longer produces comic book art, so it’s not AS bad as it once was.)

    I suppose I like the thought of someone caring for all the “stuff” when I’m gone, and when Cynthia is gone. But I’ve seen enough estate sales full of odds and ends purchased in bulk in the hope that there’s a gem or two in it all. That gets sold, and the rest tossed or sitting in a warehouse or junk store covered in dust. Knowing that, I simply try carrying bigger memories and realizing that much of the stuff doesn’t need to be revisited. It served its purpose, much like this reply.

    As tiny as it may be, I look forward to reading what you write here, and I walk away a better person early in the morning when I reply to something thoughtful here, rather than see what someone clinging to celebrity status is up to.

    So much stuff is created online every day that it’s unlikely that years down the line somebody will read every blog entry here (and even more unlikely that replies like mine will be read). But at 5:30 in the morning on a cold and dark morning in Texas, I’m happy to contribute to the digital accumulation of some stuff here.

  2. pete29anderson Says:

    I have a pile of notebooks which contain my fiction writings. Like you, Paul, I’ll never use or read them again, but I hang onto them. I like to pretend that, fifty years from now, when the winds have blown my ashes across the continent, some biographer or university archive will be thrilled to acquire my notebooks. (Yeah, right.)

  3. Diane Says:

    I actually DID go through all my old journals about a year ago. There was much I chose to destroy, and that was wonderful. Some things, we forget with good reason, and others may be scabs best not picked. It surprised me how disproportionate some people apparently were in my life as opposed to their diminished roles in my remaining memory – and I found more than one stunning moment in my life that genuinely shocked me, things I had forgotten and now am ambivalent about knowing, decades on.

    Like christophergronlund, I have no children – and my nieces live 3000 miles away, with no sign they’ll return to this coast in adulthood. As my mom put it, “You should be cremated, nobody will visit your grave.” Not as unkind a sentiment as it may sound; it’s likely true. So I do wonder sometimes what will become the stuff of my life. But usually not for very long; all it takes is a good read to distract me!


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