Inside our living room credenza, I have a clear plastic tub crammed with old stuff.
Every few months, I take it out and go through a weekend-long ritual.
I shuffle through photographs from the 90s, laugh at the pencil-thin eyebrows, and scan some choice shots of me and my friends from when we still had baby fat on our faces.
Oh, all that pretty collagen!
(But what were those awful jeans? )
I share these on Facebook, then realize I already scanned and shared the same photos last year.
Then, I read the college pile, most of it on ripped-out notebook paper with furled edges.
It contains letters from friends at other schools (Hope Wesleyan is great! I drank too much sex on the beach’s last night at the Canteen, and today my dorm mate told me, “Frankly, you were acting obnoxious and embarrassed yourself in front of all the guys.” I want to die)…
…Pickup notes dudes wrote me in the campus gym, where I pretty much lived on the stationary bike (Hi, don’t stop pedaling! I see you in here alot. My name is Steve and I’d like to take you to dinner)…
…An angry breakup note (See you when hell freezes over! Have a nice life — Steve)…
…An intervention letter from freshman year (or Frosh year, as my school called it) from my best friend who lived across the hall: Laura — step back and look at what’s happening — Fred is being a dick, blowing you off, and copping out of being honest. He’s holding you back from better (i.e., Steve). Get out now, Laura.
(I needed that.)
…And typewritten letters from my parents, both apologizing that they might not be able to drive all the way to Connecticut to pick me up for Winter break. Wow, someone was a spoiled brat. (If you’ve ever met my parents, I don’t have to tell you this bit is from my dad.)
And then, the part that takes the longest. I start reading the journals.
I torture my husband by muting the TV every 15 minutes so I can read parts out loud.
“Turns out I wrote down everything we ate in Sicily. Wanna hear? First course: spoon of ricotta with urchin; bacala mash…”
“Check this out — I was afraid to introduce [EX-BOYFRIEND] to my friends because he didn’t trim his nose hairs.”
“OMG, listen to how miserable I was in 2003 when I couldn’t get you to commit.”
The journals are tragically intermittent. They take up 6 thick black spiral notebooks, and span from 1996 or so to 2009, when I gave up on pens and started journaling on 750words.com.
Almost every entry starts with, “I have nothing new to write about,” and yet almost every one has something priceless, something I can’t believe I almost didn’t write.
Records from Jury duty in 1997, showing how much the world has changed:
“Wow, everyone in here must be very, very important, because they’re all taking calls on their cell phones. Are we supposed to be impressed you have a cell phone?”
My daily gripes in 2005, showing little ways I’ve changed:
“I used my whole session with [my then-therapist] Emily talking about why I can’t get myself to make the bed till afternoon.”
Congrats to me: I now make my bed first thing every morning, without a second thought. I even make it by accident on days our housekeeper comes.
The same dumb common themes that weigh on me today.
I’ve written this sentence at least 3 times in every journal:
“I need to figure out my big idea. What can I write that will make me enough money to only fly First Class?”
A me I barely recognize (and want to shake):
“I know I shouldn’t have anything to do with him, because he’s married, but he says they only live together like civil roommates.”
Signs-of-the-time snippets, like this one from 2002:
“Girl at Intermix, trying on hat, to friend: ‘Am I so Cheryl Crow in this?’ FRIEND: ‘Yes, get it, you’re so Crow.’”
All kinds of moments I would’ve forgotten.
I’m resenting my best friend in the world for making me spend so much as a bridesmaid (itemized tally included), and for making me wear grey silk shantung, which shows sweat….I’m elated that scripts went over well in a writer’s meeting….I’m sheepish that I upgraded myself to Business Class while my boyfriend is sitting back in Coach. He tells me, understandingly, “You have your needs.”
….I’m hungry and shaky after having a Go Lean bar, and lamenting that my new antidepressants haven’t made me not hungry.
….I’m in jury duty, wondering whether one of the other potential jurors is truly paranoid or faking it to get excused, in this exchange:
LAWYER: “Have you ever been the victim of a violent crime?”
MAN: “People have tried to kill me on 12 to 15 occasions.”
LAWYER: “Can you give some examples of what they did to you?”
MAN: “Well, there was one time. Where the guy [Makes slicing line across neck]…He uh, you know. Tried to kill me. But the other ones, well, you know, I managed to elude them before they could do anything. You know, I’d see them in the shadows and get away by the skin of my teeth. Like one time I was pulling up to park in this space, and I saw someone, and so thank God, I chose to park elsewhere. Because he would’ve killed me.”
All these snapshots I almost didn’t get.
Because I thought I had nothing to write, or thought, “I don’t need to write this down, I’ll remember it.”
It kills me how many I’ve missed.
Every 20 pages or so, the date jumps by months and a new entry starts with an apology. “So much for my writing streak. Gotta get back to writing every day.”
At every stage of my life, I’ve had the notion that I’ve reached completion. That there won’t be anything special about today to look back on, because I’m now fully “me” and this is the way I’ll be twenty years from now.
Every day is worth writing about.
Even if all you write is how you have nothing to write about.
The way you write about something one day won’t be the way you write about that same thing another day.
I look at sentences I wrote and think, “I’d never come up with those words now.”
Every bit of writing is the result of a zillion variables — your state of mind, where you’re sitting, how you’re sitting, what you ate, what you dreamt, watched on TV, or read online — all coming together in a way it never will again.
It’s like a snowflake, except it doesn’t have to melt or get dirty and peed on.
(I hate snowflake analogies, but what else is there that’s not replicable — besides my husband’s spicy spaghetti pomodoro, which is based on a recipe but comes out a little different every time? )
So, in the words of me every 3 weeks of my life, “Gotta get back to writing every day.”
Let’s all do it. Who’s in?
I should write in notebooks, but my hand forgot how to write, so I’ll keep using 750words.com.
Do you write every day? Do you keep your old writing and rediscover it every year or so?
Do you weep for the writing you didn’t do?
Are you going to write something today?
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
Originally published at talkingshrimp.com