Michael Harling has a post today that made me think. He’s researching his own life for a book and is discovering things he had forgotten:
Researching my own life has been a bit like that. It’s taken nowhere near the time (I know where all the journals, photos and letters are kept, after all), but the forgotten details I am digging up often make it seem as if I am reading about someone else’s life. It’s interesting to read words written by yourself nearly a decade ago that you have no memory of and that leave you wondering just what was in your mind when you wrote them.
Sorting out our crap here has been like that. I went through boxes and boxes of stuff to sort out what we wanted to keep and what could be thrown away. Doing that is like time traveling through your own life. First there are the photos – there’s you with a really bad haircut, there’s you wearing ill-advised stone washed jeans, there’s you when you were thin and there’s you gaining weight, there’s you as a child with a huge ice cream and there’s you as an adult with … another huge ice cream (which explains the weight gain). Most unsettling of all are the pictures of you with people you can’t recall at all. you’re smiling and mugging for the camera, but the place, time and person are complete mysteries.
Those photos are also illuminating. Your instant reaction when you see this or that face separates out those people you truly cared about from those who were just ships passing in the night. In some cases, you hadn’t thought about those people in years but now you wish you had.
But as Michael says, it’s the letters and journals that really throw you. In many cases I have no recollection of the events I wrote about. How can they just have completely vanished? Especially when some of them were far more interesting than the random events or conversations I have carried with me for 30 years or more.
And it’s not just the things I had forgotten. I also found that some of my strongest memories are actually mistaken. The broad outlines are accurate, but I’ve garbled the details or reordered things over the intervening years, so that reading the details of what actually happens is a bit of a shock and makes you want to yell at your past self: “That’s not how it happened at all!”
The process of reading my own life was the primary instigation for me in creating this blog. I was always a little uncomfortable about blogging before – it seemed so self-important. Even though I love reading other people’s blogs and don’t find them at all self-important, I somehow didn’t think I was interesting enough to write one. But when I read those letters and diaries, I realized how intermittent they were. Years went by where I kept no record at all, and therefore have no idea what I was doing or thinking or feeling, or how it has brought me to where I am now. I realized it doesn’t really matter if anyone else cares what I have to say – just the act of recording this time of great change will be good for me. And so I started blogging.
I figure if I’m still around in 20 years, I can read all this back and rediscover all the things I have forgotten.