Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Reread what your life has written

Reread. Photo by EssG, Flickr
"If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us we'd be millionaires." -- Abigail Van Buren

The act of handwriting can be a form of kinesthetic reinforcement. What you write down etches on your mind. But even if you wrote your hand clean off, it wouldn't be enough to cement all the lessons, reminders, and warnings life piles on before bed each evening. So we capture what we can, go to sleep, and hope for the best.

Enter, then, revisiting. Rereading, if you will, be it literal notes or records, or rewatching a memory through a shadow box of time and new experiences. In both cases, your once-lived life plays out within a handmade diorama -- a construction paper construct that represents its original, vivid source.

It seems depressing to say it that way -- construction paper, after all, is prone to tears, fading, and overall disintegration -- but I'm making the point that we don't have exact moments again. Ever. The experience is immediate, then past. A match struck, where the brilliant burst first catches, burns a bit, then dwindles, spent. The key is to save the match and write with the char: Here's what I saw in the light.

Quote yourself. Photo by Purple Penning, Flickr

Case in point: Italian Mother Syndrome. I've been blogging here for years, and I've never intended it to be a confessional journal. For me, these posts are my char -- the distillation of burning moments that recast me in a new light.

Every so often, I scroll through previous posts to see what I've talked about. Reflecting via timestamp has reminded me, at various points, that grief is a gift, that joy can be terrifying, that the love of life is growing for me, that aging is a blessing and a curse, and that yes, I will die.

However, what's most telling is how I wrote about these topics. As I reread them, I am back in that unique moment. I remember what line made me tear up or what picture I chose to make myself giggle. I remember what inspired me to write it and what I was moved to do next. And invariably I find a post that captures what I'm feeling or facing or fussing about now, in this moment, and I remember that I did learn this lesson once and clearly need to re-learn it.

What if I never re-read, then? Would I never re-learn? Or would I still re-learn, only without recognizing the "re" component? How long does it take to learn a lesson? How long should it take? Are there some that always switch disguises, Tony Mendez-like, clever and clandestine with their wisdom? Or are they hiding in plain sight with Groucho glasses and a beanie? Am I, in the end, the chump?

"A kind of miracle." Photo by quinn.anya, Flickr
A step-by-step instruction manual would be a lifesaver. Socrates famously said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," but he was too busy fighting the death penalty at that moment to go into more detail about when to examine vs. when to live. That's the delicate balance, isn't it? If I spent all my time re-reading old posts, I'd never write new ones. Yet if I never revisit original moments, I risk repeating epiphanies.

My solution: do a little bit of each as the spirit moves me. Look to learn to live. Live to learn to look.

Prayer #264: Bookmarked Wisdom

We start fairy tales with "once upon a time," even though we know few stories are new and time never happens just once. Still, we perpetuate the fiction; it's easier to accept truth wrapped in a bedtime yarn than to watch it thud, bald and broken, at your feet during your morning walk.

Your life has its own narrative, of which you are both writer and reader. Crack the spine. Scribble in the margin. Reread the dog ears. The book is yours to complete, and yours to revise.

Amen.

3 comments:

  1. Personally I always liked the follow-up line in the musical Company to that Socrates quote. One of the characters responds "I've always thought the unlived life was not worth examining." :)

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  2. As always, Julia, impeccable timing with what's on my mind now. Just posted a comment on a post that is also about rereading our past through letters and other mementos, and reliving those moments, even questioning, "Was that really me?" I, too, reread my old journals and blog posts, laughing, shaking my head, and yes, crying again. Time removes some of the physical elements and the intensities of those past moments, but it does, as you say, help us what parts we're meant to remember and learn from - whether it was a lesson, a feeling, or an outcome. I agree that revisiting our words and memories are key to creating new ones in the future, but it's all about what you make of it. Here is the post I commented on today: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/diary-of-a-memoirist-countdown-is-that-you

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  3. "yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present."
    - Master Oogway from Kung Fu Panda / anonymous

    We are both the observer and the experiencer. Quite the gift.

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