A year ago today I began a project that involved years worth of personal journals that I had kept since high school, 13 years worth to be exact, and so i titled the project, simply, 13 years. Taking all as a whole, I went through each journal line by line, compiling all of the entries for a particular day (say August 1, for example) from each year, and making a word picture out of lines extracted and combined in order to create a flash of a story, a mood, without implicating anyone actually involved. I then paired up those words with personal photographs that in some way related to the story/mood. The last one in the series was posted yesterday, leaving me asking, now that it is done, what was the point and what did I learn?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always lived my life in the past, be it my own past or the past of others, say, my grandparents for example, or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Always grasping, always clinging to a false hope, as Fitzgerald famously said in Gatsby, “born back ceaselessly into the past.” Thus, this project was primarily about confronting, addressing, accepting and ultimately coming to peace with the past. With each day completed I took all of the relevant journal pages and destroyed them, letting them go. It was liberating and cathartic, but at times quite painful. I was (am?) hopelessly muddled in my past and unable to progress in meaningful ways because of it, and yet, that past as I remembered it wasn’t often even a clear picture, as proven by my own written words. And that is for memories of times I felt the need/had the ability to record-what of the memories I have no written proof of? Surely they can’t be fully trusted, but my memory is all I have to go by, but knowing it is most likely wrong, distorted at best, is troubling, but nothing can be done about it.
Indeed, it speaks to the general selectivity of our memories and how we allow ourselves to live our lives and make decisions based on events we may misremember at best. It was difficult to see the clear patterns that emerged from year-to-year, notably the repeated themes of desire – to love, to be loved, to be understood, to be taking care of, to be heard. Most often than not it was extremely self-absorbed, but as I was writing for myself, perhaps that had to happen as it often felt as if no one else was taking a general interest in me, but again, it could also just be self absorption.
Through this project I have come to have a clearer picture and understanding of myself and my motives, as well as seeing myself more as others saw me vs. how I saw myself/thought I was coming across. At times I felt more justified than ever about past actions and at others embarrassed and somewhat mortified at choices I have made. But that is a life, isn’t it? No matter how much we try to retain clarity in all things, our perspectives are necessarily distorted. The level of distortion, however, and whether we choose to learn from the past is completely up to us.
Here’s raising a drink to remembering and being nourished by the past, but not letting ourselves be a slave to it. I am so happy I set out on and completed this project and feel completely ready to be a 32-year-old man and no longer a terrified child. No more making excuses for myself or for others. Cheers.
The entire 13 years project can be found here. Click on any date for the entry for that day.