So I’ve started up on the going-through-boxes bit of moving: digging up, spreading out, wrenching off dusty lids and getting elbow-deep in scraps of memories—you know, the “ugh” of the to-do list. Not so much because it’s tedious and time-consuming, but more because of what it opens, draws you back into—old mix tapes and yellowed papers and skinny sheets of photo negatives, the cluttered corners of your own life.
So I brew a phat cup of coffee and put on a song that seems fitting (even if it’s just the shitty YouTube version) and let the confetti of my life explode across the bedroom floor.
It’s a kind of Memory Lane without street patterns or building numbers (and so in that way, kind of like Phnom Penh itself)—just a hodgepodge of unordered relics and artifacts. Memories are one thing, because you can distort them, whether you mean to or not; you can warp them over time, into what you want them to be or need them to be. The actual physical crap you accumulate is more like the facts—the hard, plastic facts, an old bedside clock covered in stickers—of what your life is and has been. If an autobiography is the facts, and a memoir is the memories (and thus inherently flawed, and those flaws often telling us more than the facts), then my room and my life have turned into an explosion of upturned facts, mini-autobiographies presented non-sequentially, with just a dusty trail of memory to string together any narrative meaning.
And you start to wonder, from an anthropological standpoint, what your life would look like to someone, if all they had to look at were your possessions. (I think there was actually an MTV dating show with that as the premise, and I’m embarrassed that I know that.) But this is more than just your possessions—the things you’ve saved. They tell a kind of story, it seems, about you, one that you probably couldn’t tell yourself—one that you’re probably only vaguely aware exists.
And I think if you looked at it, without knowing me, you’d think, “Holy shit, this girl loves to write.” Cause that’s what I thought—surprised by it, startled like an animal in the lights of it, the reams of evidence—which I guess goes to show you how little you can know yourself. Like I’d forgotten, you know, how much writing has always been with me: the poetry and the zines and the pseudo-chapter books and the stories I dictated to my dad before I even knew how to write, that he transcribed for me and I somehow saved, in a dusty old box all these years later.
It’s kind of astounding, the sheer volume, and that some of the lines strike me as good. Really good. As in, “Holy shit, I wrote that!” It’s been a curious experience, like viewing my life from the outside, and it’s caused me to ask myself: Why? Where does this all come from? And the truth is, I couldn’t tell you why I write, where this need in me comes from, anymore than I can tell you why I travel. I’ve read great essays on these topics, even tried to write a few myself, but in my most honest of moments, I have to admit that I have no idea why, except that there’s that thing in me “that will not be still.”
So I guess you could say that digging out all this crap has helped to remind me of who I am, the fact of who I am (which might be different from what I tell myself)—that I didn’t just make this up, that I really have always wanted to write. And more than that: I’ve always written. Funny, that I’d have needed all this evidence to remind me.
But then there’s reality, which is that you can’t hang on to everything, save all these Xeroxs and yellow legal pads and notebooks that you really only ever go through when you move. It’s too much to possibly ever read, and besides, I’m trying to avoid the whole storage unit thing. So I set up two piles, the larger of which goes into the recycling bin, and I sift through and save the gems and take my own little stroll through Memory Lane.