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.