I spent part of last week sifting and sorting, weeding through many boxes containing the remnants of several past lifetimes. I found old yearbooks and school papers, photographs from elementary school and two stints in France, trinkets squirreled away for years and lots of coins from my grandmother, a whole parcel of correspondence, graduation cards, school notebooks in two languages, old maps and museum pamphlets, half-empty journals and half a dozen writing awards. I found old friends. The weeding was a whirlwind tour of my memories, a field trip to my former selves. The undertaking came at a perfect time in this present lifetime, when I’ve been taking stock of my vocation, what tugs at my heartstrings. Part of the answer, it turns out, is sort of some of the same things that have always tugged at my heartstrings. What follows are some of the lessons I gleaned about myself over the course of a few afternoons so, spoiler alert, from here on out this post gets pretty self-centered.
Ingrid Bergman played a huge role in shaping who I am today. Myrna Loy, Shirley Jones, and Greta Garbo (and many of their fictional personas) also played a significant role. They shaped my life and also probably saved it. (I will never, ever get rid of the autographed photo Shirley Jones sent me when I was twelve. Yeah. I was that kid.)
I have always loved animals, wanted to help other people, and believed in equal rights for all. I had an early interest in the United Nations.
Body dysmorphia is real. I wish I could tell my younger self that I was never fat in elementary school, middle school, high school, or even college. I wish I could tell my younger self that eventually I’d run a marathon, and that it was actually running that made me gain excess weight and an injury that’s helping me lose it.
I learned early on to keep a journal and to mix story ideas with a chronicle of what happened during the day. Just like, I just learned recently, Virginia Woolf.
I was a weird kid and I spent a lot of time daydreaming, but I was also kind of hilarious.
I miss corresponding by mail. I miss corresponding by school post office box. I miss my elementary school friends, who were more loyal and loving than I ever appreciated at the time.
I have benefited from the wisdom and grace of a string of mentors, who were remarkable not only because they looked beyond the fact that I was kind of a weird kid, but also, and more importantly, because they saw some potential in me and believed in it and me. I am utterly in awe of these women.
I like rules. I like making rules. I like enforcing rules. I like explaining why some rules are not fair. This has always been true.
I started a lot of stories and abandoned most of them on the third or fourth page, but I mustered some pretty significant sticktoitiveness even as a middle schooler to finish several novellas. My current self is in awe of that past productivity.
In one of my journals I wrote that I wanted to study anthropology and work for National Geographic. I felt adrift for years but I studied history, comparative American ethnic studies, museum studies, and French, and now I work for a magazine that publishes stories about the intersection of science and culture. Not too far off the mark.
I said “I don’t know” a lot and many of those mentors spent a lot of timing telling me I actually did know. Now I know.
Memory is weird and documentation helps clarify what actually happened. Memories can be painful and restorative; memory work can be equally so.
My twelve-year-old self would be proud of who I am right now, and probably impressed that I successfully navigated several tough years. My twenty-one-year old self, who was anxious about living up to my college potential, would likely be relieved.