I’m packing up the things in the attic, going through documents and files. I sort into ‘coming with me’ and ‘staying in storage’.
After a while the redistribution reveals an old writing folder. It is then I have to look at how I am sorting. What have I been doing?
The folder straddles the groups. I may not find any ideas in here that I want to work on but it may make interesting reading for it takes me on a path back to who I was. It is like wending through a forest then standing at the edge of a glade and peeping in upon my past self toiling and playing and dreaming and planning. To see oneself so far away is a curious thing. There were so many future selves and lives then. The gap between then and now is the path of the one I lived.
I realise that I am taking my past self with me when I move. I am packing things that show who I was and which lead to who I am. It’s my thread into the past. It’s like packing a trunk to remind myself (echoes of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox) or following the Hansel and Gretel path of small white stones, home.
I’ve externalised the memories and I need to take them with me.
I have other repositories. My sandpit friend has an excellent memory for our childhood and adolescent adventures. She is my external hard-drive. So is The BB. And so are my diaries (I almost certainly won’t read them, but they are present). Technology is a straight, horizon-bound highway to the outsourcing of the self. Are we responding in part to that when we are saddened by the loss of a phone or computer?
The loss of things and of people is sometimes literally the loss of memory, the loss of the self.
Downstairs, my son’s books take me deep into the forest. I journey through his life.
I pull out the picture books I have read him and feel him again, heavy and focussed in my arms.
Inside the cover of a history-based picture book series we collected together, I see he’s written the ‘c’ in his name back to front. It’s the large writing of someone new to the craft. I would take the books just for that.
There’s the inevitable The Day My Bum went Psycho and the ubiquitous Horrible Histories bringing history to uproarious life. Joke books, of course – what children’s library is complete without one? He ventured into fantasy with Narnia, magical realism with Selby the talking dog.
His evolving interests are marked with Mathematical Bafflers; Sodoku – beginners to advanced; coin reference books; chess manuals and books on astronomy that are heavy enough to be used as ballast. His growing independence shows with worn novels picked up at high school book sales. I remember pouring over them as he unpacked his bag. The Prophet from his father marks the end of school. He searches, as adolescents appropriately do, for meaning. His purchases reflect this. As he contemplated Russia the following year, I gave him Russka by Edward Rutherford. That, fittingly, is his last book. He left shortly afterwards for that country.
His books remind me.
We journey with imperfect memories. Objects and people are our path back through the forest of lived life. I need to take them with me if I can.