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It’s been nearly one year since we moved into the new Mt. Willis, and I don’t think we’re fully unpacked. I mentioned this to a friend today who responded, “If a year has passed without you needing to unpack it, you don’t need it. Throw it away.”

It’s true, probably. I don’t know why I have most of the things I have. It may be genetic. My mom saves almost everything I ever owned. In fact, in my kitchen right now, there is a 34-year-old piece of paper hanging from a string on which I wrote the numbers one through 100. In a closet in my mom’s house is my single to Prince’s “Purple Rain” on purple vinyl. I still have Doyle Brunson’s “Super System” sitting on my book shelf in this office. I feel pretty confident I’ll never read it again.

I keep things, and I don’t know why.

This hit home over the last ten days as I traveled more than 1,500 miles with my family on a road trip. Along the way, I posted anecdotes, pictures, and overheard conversations to Twitter and Facebook. Sure, they got gratifying replies that made me smile, but now they’re gone, buried deep in a timeline, lost to everybody’s sight and almost everybody’s memory. Twitter and Facebook are valuable communication tools, but they are worthless for collectors. They are not merely sieves. They’re black holes for memories. They are a story shared in an elevator perpetually going down.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love Twitter, and I tolerate Facebook more than a lot of people can. However, I’m struck as a writer and bits-of-string collector by how much the social media tools reduce the length of time a thought exists. No matter how you view the world, spirituality, or the meaning of life, memories barely exist in the social media realm. There is always something new, something fresh to fill the black vacuum. It’s a hard-knock existential soul crusher. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but it does make me somewhat uncomfortable, primarily because I enjoy the instant communication and feedback so much that even I, a memory hoarder, have taken to reducing my memories to 140-character blips that exist for a few seconds and then are gone. Over the past five years, I’ve posted to Twitter more than 9,000 times. They are 9,000 tales told by an idiot and–regardless of their sound or fury–likely still signify nothing.

This is not an indictment of social media. Don’t read it that way. This is an indictment of myself, for if I put such stock in holding on to old poker chips and little toys I’ve collected in my life, why am I so careless with my own thoughts and memories? It’s not that I simply reduce them to their 140-character essence, it’s that I purposefully banish them to darkness. I sentence interesting things to an almost immediate death. Why would I do that? A lot of reasons I guess. I admit I love instant feedback. It gratifies a part of my ego I’m willing to expose. I also love the feeling of telling super-short stories and communicating with people I know and love all over the world.

Still, I feel bad for my memories. They’re things I truly want to share with other people. They’re things I want to share immediately. To do that, I most often give the memory the lifespan of some microorganism that dies only because it was unfortunate enough to be born into a world where it couldn’t survive.

I’m not so vain to think many if any people actually care about whether my stories and memories perish as soon as they breathe. That said, I sometimes get sad when a story is here and gone so fast. Here are just a few from the last ten days. They are fast. They were meant for Twitter. They barely mean anything. I just don’t want them to fade away just yet.

***

The server in the Tennessee “No Way Jose” Mexican restaurant was bubbly and cheerful in a way that made me immediately trust everything she said. I would’ve let her babysit my child. But her face grew serious when I ordered a margarita.

“You know we make our margaritas with wine instead of tequila, right?” she said. “We don’t have liquor in this city.”

No woman who spoke of such an abomination would ever tend to my child.

***

In southeast Missouri along US 60, my wife pointed and said, “Look.” The dust rose up from a fallow field and into the clouds. We saw two of these before we crossed the Mississippi River.

***

Behind a truck in Kentucky. Its trailer had two stickers. The one on the left identified the proper place to pass him. The one on the right offered self-murder advice.

***

In Branson, Missouri, a February tornado ripped buildings into pieces all up and down its iconic strip. The 30-minute drive down Highway 76 revealed countless instances of destruction. My kids were fascinated by this second-floor room that remained intact without its roof or exterior wall. Meanwhile, in the photo below, one spray-painter took exception to FEMA’s lack of a disaster declaration.

***

My grandmother lives in the country. A few miles from her house stands a house divided and on its way to falling. Less than five years ago, a tornado blew out every window of my grandma’s house and destroyed an exterior garage. The wind blew so hard, shards of glass were embedded point-first into wooden tables. Power poles snapped in half. Still, the house down the street stands. There is no real accounting for nature.

***

I’ve spent the last year with my eyes closed, mostly so I could try to not see a lot of bad things happening around me. I can’t tell you how good it feels to open them again and see things like this instead.

Migration

Everywhere to run and nowhere to go

My wife's new winged friend

Like me, a lot of potential for trouble

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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6 Responses

  1. BJ Nemeth says:

    Excellent post (as always), though I disagree with your premise about Twitter — “… social media tools reduce the length of time a thought exists.” I would argue the opposite.

    The act of writing something down (or even typing it into Twitter) *strengthens* our memories of it, whether it is a dream we woke up to, vocabulary terms for a quiz, or interesting observations along a road trip. If you write something on a sheet of paper and throw it away without ever looking at it again, your memory of it is still stronger than if you had never written it down at all. This is summed up by the motto for my preferred brand of notebooks (FieldNotesBrand.com) — “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

    Before social media, many of these thoughts and memories would have faded before we ever bothered to give voice to them or even write them down. Many of our thoughts have a much *longer* shelf-life on social media than they otherwise would.

    Without Twitter or a blog, would you have bothered to record anything at all about the humorous signs on the back of the truck or the dust devils in Missouri? Or an interesting waitress in a dry city in Tennessee?

    You also wrote, “why am I so careless with my own thoughts and memories?”

    How can it be considered careless to share your thoughts with others on Twitter and strengthen your own memories in the process? Taken to the extreme, hoarding memories is probably no better than hoarding physical objects — think of the people who are so focused on videotaping an event that they forget to actually *experience* it.

    If someone else had made these statements, I would have been more willing to accept them, but you excel at writing great stories and painting vivid pictures with your words. You couldn’t be the amazing writer that you are without a healthy respect for your own thoughts and memories.

  2. KenP says:

    Sorry to disagree with BJ but thoughts on Twitter? Twitter reminds me of the half hour before the bartender makes last call. We are all so sure we are the smartest one in the place and we don’t bother much paying attention to others — lips service works.

    I have read the tweets of this Willis guy. Need a translator. Of course that’d mean being part of whatever clique is need for the savvy, in-crowd translation. In the meantime, that Otis guy hasn’t had a post for 5 weeks. Talk about dumb down, it right here.

    Most of us have trouble getting an idea across in a paragraph. Now it has been reduced to 140 characters. Otis understands Brad’s problem; its just Brad’s still thinking about last call and about thumbing out a tweet with that 2 A.M. brilliance.

    Otis, Elvis and a train of thought have left the building.

  3. BadBlood says:

    Troll police arriving at the scene…

  4. Mrs. Otis says:

    I appreciate what you guys are trying to say. However, if so much of our very limited time is being taken up by writing and/or reading 140 character “stories,” we have less time to work on pieces with real substance. Never-ending 140 character distractions might be entertaining, even informative at times, but they’re still distractions. Just saying.

  5. KenP says:

    Well said, Mrs. O. I’d expect no less from someone who producer hat knew how to direct scarce resources for best effect. Not always the most satisfactory job but highly necessary and maybe even something to be proud of six months down the line. But, watch out for the troll police. 🙂

  6. PokerLawyer says:

    *Many* people care about your stories and memories, even those shared in 140-characters. I’m one.

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