Sunday, January 8, 2012

Objects and memories

When I visited my family last year, I spent several days in a cathartic letter-and-diary-burning frenzy.

I have been thinking about this and about memory in general a lot since I read The Sense of an Ending (I won't divulge more - I try not to include spoilers when talking about books here), and I just dug out this article from my bookmarks (she also has a beautiful blog), which says it better than I could. I wanted to "smoke [people] out of my life", too. I also found it painful to reread those words from years ago and felt it served no purpose to hold on to them and revisit the past or leave them for others to read.

As somebody who loves reading biographies, autobiographies and collections of correspondence, which are easier to write and in the case of the latter only possible if the subject's letters and diaries remain, perhaps I should be in favour of preserving personal writings for posterity*, although I do have mixed feelings about posthumous revelations (especially when no consent was given). The writings and other paraphernalia people leave behind necessarily represent only a tiny portion of the complexity of a life, and the snippets we salvage are often taken out of context and misinterpreted. A false story can be constructed. Of course this is a problem that all biographers face, and words have limitations.

This very space is a kind of diary that anybody can read. But it is written with that in mind and a million miles away from something I wrote for myself or others wrote to me privately.

It was a relief to get rid of all these remnants from the past, even if I have no control over the letters I wrote. Expunging the physical reminders of certain phases in my life does not delete the memories themselves, but I am a big believer in decluttering one's life, and this was a crucial part.

On  my visit this time, however, I didn't get rid of anything, but instead searched for things that I had been thinking of recently, like the beautiful mountain-and-moon necklace in the photo. My late father brought it back from a trip (my sisters also got one each) years ago, and I rarely wore it at the time. It ended up in my jewellery box, occasionally to be looked at.

A few weeks ago it popped into my mind and I made a note to look for it. When I found it, as well as other pieces that hadn't seen daylight in years, I made a resolution to wear more jewellery, especially the jewellery that was given to me and has meaning beyond its appearance. Although some time ago I decided not to save anything for special occasions and instead use the things I love, it somehow never extended to jewellery. I was too worried about losing it. Seeing my sisters both wear the necklaces my younger sister had commissioned for the three of us almost every day made me reconsider this. One of the quotes I have attached to my mirror is about letting go the things that are taken from you (to which my sister added the words "or replace them" when I ordered a replacement for a scarf I had lost!...). I will be sad if I lose an object precious to me, but this outcome is better than never using the object in the first place.

*Since I don't expect to become famous and my letters and notebooks will hardly be of interest to the wider world, I exclude myself from that. My aunt is compiling a chronicle of our family. If subsequent generations decide to do the same, they may not find much among my belongings.

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