The Pure Pain and Pleasure of Purging the Past.

At the end of July, we emptied our storage closet we’d been shelling out $20 a month for since moving to the cities. Needing a storage closet was a side effect of no longer having a basement to put things into in order to forget about them. Emptying the closet was stage one of preparing to move.

Re-creation of our living room at the moment.
Re-creation of our living room at the moment.

Last weekend, we dove through all the storage items. Beyond the two sets of golf clubs, fishing tackle, Christmas tree and seasonal decorations, we found a trove of our history, and when you aren’t moving last minute, you have the leisure/torment of digging through your life page by page, photo by photo, to cull the past hurts. Nostalgia is a bitch.

For some of it, we discovered unremembered nonsense like figurines that no longer held attachment to any memories or people. What was once something that had to be stored away now would not gather a second look if on a shelf of a knick-knack store.

It was amazing to discover so many photographs that I’d held on to for no reason. Back when you had to develop a whole roll of pics at a time, you kept them all, even though as a 10 year old photographer, I was lucky to have 2 in focus, and 1 of those with actual recognizable people or places.  Or a whole envelope of pics from a summer vacation with friends I later despised.

I discovered notes from classes, as if I would need to know what I once learned about a Yeats poem in 2004. Want to read a paper I wrote as a junior about Shylock? Me neither.  Want to read comments from a judge in an 11th grade speech contest? You can dig through the trash if you do.

Maybe we should get some child laborers in on this action.
Maybe we should get some child laborers in on this action.

I will admit that I kept hold of a lot of my old writing, despite the fact it should be burned. So many bad stories and poems. Like, Vogon-level bad. I had to get through it to move on, but still, undergrad fiction instructors should get a frickin’ medal every day.

Other fascinating things that finally made their way to the trash

  • A Disney on Ice program
  • A button about how reading is awesome
  • A creepy clown coin bank
  • A rock
  • At least 1000 pages of drafts of the same story
  • 90 percent of my photos
  • Report cards
  • About 100 birthday and get well and valentines day cards, most of which were signed with first names of people I don’t know.
  • A full album of baseball cards from an era that’s useless because everyone collected them then
  • Participation ribbons for everything from Irish jigging to bowling league to band.

I went from two plastic bins and a file folder box down to 1 plastic bin – the past bric-a-brac fading from my life as it has from my memory. It felt good, real good.

I don't understand how they can be happy except for the fact their nice, clean boxes are actually empty.
I don’t understand how they can be happy except for the fact their nice, clean boxes are actually empty.

Then there’s the part that stung.

I was lucky enough to collect ribbons in school in most everything I tried except for basketball, which no amount of practice, thousands of hours shooting hoops and dribbling, could help. I was similarly mediocre in golf, but it was such a small high school that mediocre was all you needed for a sport like golf. I still lettered in golf despite only breaking 45 once.

I was “blessed” with a Gallup Strengths Finder personality mix that seems to work well with school-based assessments. I tested well, I excelled at tasks. Becky and I were both told that this was the path to life fulfillment and success. So now we are grownups and have learned how little one has to do with the other. All these medals and achievements that I had been told was another step on the road to a comfortable life had become little pieces of proof of the lies we were told.

Persistence, hard work, learning, are only a small part of the getting ahead equation. So as I threw away piece after piece of that past – I was also throwing away that false promise that it actually meant something.

The things I kept were items that had value in and of themselves to me – pictures I drew, comic strips I created, really bad stories I wrote throughout my life – all tracks of a person who couldn’t stop writing in one form or another. Many of these tracks false starts or tests – how far can I load a symbol, can I write a whole story with only dialog, how do you get two characters to say things that they don’t want to say in a believable way – all of which I’m still trying to figure out from time to time.

None of those things I kept were proof of promises of a better future. I feel good about purging that part of my past.

I also feel good about throwing away or donating about 75% of the items we had in storage, culling the weight of our past lives.

nostalgia quote

quote for nostalgia

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1 thought on “The Pure Pain and Pleasure of Purging the Past.

  1. I’m curious to see if anyone who did *not* grow up in a “family of the institution” (as I think of us…preacher’s/teacher’s/cop’s kids, etc.) will get what you are saying about the “lies” we were told growing up?

    I get exactly what you’re saying, and have long observed that you and Becky have shared many similar experiences with me.

    I’m just curious whether this will make sense to others, or if this will just be another way the odd ducks are dismissed or sidelined for being “broken” or “choosing” to make our lives unnecessarily difficult.

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