Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Storyteller

What will the world be like when there are no more stories to tell? When the tales that are told come from Hollywood, and the windows at night are filled with the blue flickering fluorescence of the Television screens. How will we know our neighbors, or even our own families? When children ignore the memories of their elders by sticking their faces into the nearest tablet, futuristic Game Boys with touch screens and instant access to the world's entertainment, but no memories of days gone by.  No, we will not know the people who live just down the hall.  And it's a shame. The rocking chairs will become brittle from non-use.  I know when I finally get a house of my own, it shall have a front porch and a rocking chair.  In the evenings, after the hot sun has gone down, the only flickering I will see, as I sit in my rocking chair with my book, will be the bioluminescence of the Fireflies.  The book will tell me stories.

But I remember when my parents would tell me memories from their childhood. I have memories of things that happened way before I was born.  I remember my mother, on one cold Christmas break when she was a child, learning she had measles, and screaming out MEASLES!!, or my grandfather, having a nightmare, only half conscious, yelling out "I've got a gun! I'm gonna shoot!" repeatedly, and they lived in a duplex, so the other half of the house could hear him threatening violence.  I remember my dad, not having any tact at restaurants, making a big deal over getting out his pocket knife to cut his steak.  (That runs in the family... I have no bones about getting my own silverware or even a refill if I can reach the pitcher.)  I was there for none of those things.  They are all stories that my mother and grandmother told me, over and over, until they became my own memories.  But our children will not have those memories, at least, that's what I fear.

I'll be honest with my recent housecleaning.  Since the funeral, I've been going through the house and carrying boxes with me.  Trash Box / Garage Sale Box / Keep Box. The first two have vastly outweighed the third.  I cannot come right out and call my mom a hoarder, because I don't think that was quite it.  The way I look at it, she saw an object and attached an emotion, a memory, to each thing.  The garland on the Christmas Tree would be the decoration, but the memory would be the box it had come in, those that were barely hanging together (and I surreptitiously threw away several years ago).  She kept almost all the clothing she wore throughout her entire adult life, because the memories attached were the things she did while wearing those clothes.

Ah the memories... and look
 at the space it consumes.
I understand this feeling; I do the same things, to some extent.  I have 7 Commodore 64's in my closet, hoping that I would get a power supply that worked (I only have one, and it barely does), and so I could actually use one.  Which is silly... I have emulators on my PC with all the games I could ever think about playing on the C64.  But the memories of playing those games, of beating Blue Max or Zaxxon (which my dad and his neighbor would sneak out of church, go to the corner cafe, which had Zaxxon as a coin-operated video game, and play it instead of hearing God's word.), that's what I attach to the machines themselves.  I've learned, however, to look ahead at my life, or rather, to the end of it, and see where those memories go. Do I want my relatives tossing out all my junk, or selling to some stranger who may or may not have those same memories?  What stories do those objects tell? Like most idols of biblical times, they say nothing.  The stones are silent.  We can tell a way of life, a preference of color, of sound, but that's about it.  I'm not saying that we need to be like my grandmother, who felt that the more she gave/threw away, the closer she would get to heaven.  There has to be a happy medium. The message should speak out through the things you keep, not buried in the things to be thrown away.

You see, to me, the objects tell stories because the memories are silent.  There's no one rocking in that chair anymore, they are all watching Reality TV in the living room.  Should we know our parents and grandparents only by the stuff in their dresser drawers?  And nowadays, stuff is inundating us.  Every time we go to the store, the kids want a toy, or a book, or a whatever-that-thing-is-next-to-the-register.  And we take it home, and it sits on the bedroom floor for a while, forgotten, but if we go to pick it up and throw it away, a hissy-fit is sure to ensue.  You see, the child has instilled the act of getting that thing, the attention of the parent, with the thing itself.  The more stuff someone has, the more love they have received.

I knew a family in Milledgeville, where I went to college, who had to move every now and again due to lack of funds.  Usually, they had to leave their stuff behind and start all over.  The only things that were constant were the hand drawn pictures on the living room walls, the pictures.  That was about it.  And she sat in the rocking chairs in the front of her house and told stories of her life, and that of her children, endlessly, until those memories became mine because I knew them.  They were poor, but they needed little in the way of "material goods," to make them happy.  I'm sure that's not always the case.  Everyone would like a new television or a new cell phone or the latest book.  It's the perspective that I admire.  Richness in perspective.

You know my favorite character in the world of Fraggle Rock? Jim Henson voices the wise Fraggle Cantus, the Minstrel.  He is a storyteller, much like Henson himself.  Of course, with everything in Fraggle Rock, it is all done with music.  He goes about the rock singing songs and telling stories.  I wish that was what I could do.  Listen to the songs of the people here, on this Earth, and tell their stories.  Because it's those memories that live on in the minds of others.  The souvenirs will all rot away in the landfills, but the memories behind them will go on, if we tell the stories enough.  Never in this world have we had so much ability to keep the stories of our family alive, with pictures, movies, webcams, cell phones, Youtube, the Internet... and never before have we kept those voices quiet.  Why do that when we can stuff our mouths full of cinnamon and put that on Youtube? We let entertainment get in the way of memory and wisdom.  So much wisdom, and we're going to let it slip away... and look where that has got us.  Look at the world now... it's not pretty.  Gather ye junkpiles while ye may, for one bursted bubble (economically speaking,) and we're all toast.  It's a negative way of looking at things.  I know.  That's why it's so important to understand how to just get up and move, without the junk, and have all those memories stored away inside yourself.  They can all still be passed down, just without the coffee cup found at a garage sale to illustrate it.  Shrink all your belongings into one room.  How important, then, is each thing.  We have let material inflation catch up with us.  Reduce the supply, and increase the value.  And yet, each memory is priceless.  The thing represents the dollar, the memories behind it are the gold bars residing in Fort Knox.  And more.  We should hoard the gold, the memories, not the items that represent them. When we pass those on to our children, they shall be wealthy indeed, and far better off for it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Every Year is a Souvenir...

First off, I want to thank all the people that came to support me at my mother's funeral, it really meant the world to me.  It makes me realize that, while, I am a solitary figure, and would rather spend my days in the deepest forests in Georgia, I do value and appreciate friends and the people that do care about me.  I also want to thank people for the kind words said about my eulogy (which I originally wrote on this blog and then transferred it), as that means a lot to me, too.  Writing this blog is among the most important things in my life, leaving my thoughts and feelings on paper (or online), much like the multitude of letters I have found amongst the papers and photographs here at the house.

It is precisely that which I want to talk about.  You see, I have been going through the clutter in my house, trying to decrease the mass we've collected.  Thoreau was right, we do walk about this Earth with our collections tied to our backs, struggling through life like Atlas carrying the world.  My outlook on collecting things has changed considerably since the funeral, and while I will always be a pack rat, I understand that the volume that we procure is only temporary, that what is not useful, nor highly sentimental, is only worth what the market says it's worth.  I don't mean to think strictly along Capitalist lines, but that does help when looking at large volumes of stuff.  All it takes is going to Goodwill and seeing the shelves upon shelves of World Book Encyclopedias to see that the large metal bookshelf (which I once had my Transformers in, and trying to change the shelf levels will make even the most pious of monks curse like a sailor) that supported our 1985 set, is nothing but an obstacle which made it harder to get a gurney down our hallway.  The encyclopedias themselves are equally worthless, as online sources have made the cumbersome tomes good for smashing cockroaches, but little else.  I hope that whatever paper products they will be made into will serve mankind more than the books did these past decades.

One thing I learned is, verily, "You Can't Take It With You." But this doesn't mean what you think it means.   I have sorted through boxes upon boxes of newspapers, bills, printed articles, obituaries, photographs, and I have learned a few things.

1) Don't Make Scrapbooks!!  Yes, they make wonderful gifts, and the time you spend making them, you are thinking about the person you make it for.  But think for a moment about the people that will inherit these scrapbooks.  They are big, and for placing two or three pictures on each page, with all the knicknacks and paddywacks you put on them, it's not helpful for preserving the memories that should be presented.  My grandmother loved making scrapbooks.  With permanent tape.  You might as well have used rubber cement.  When looking at each picture, the caption for the photo is on the paper itself, not on the back of the photo.  You take the photo out (ripping the paper), you lose that information.

2) For photos, please think about people 50 years from now who will need to figure out just who that is.  I wanted my mom to go through all the pictures and identify them.  That was going to be a project for the next little bit, once she recovered.  But that didn't happen.  So while I can probably identify 75% of the people in the photos, there are some that I have no clue who they are.  I do have two relatives on one side of the family who can help, and none on the other.  I plan on scanning all the pictures and storing them on a digital site someplace so anyone who wants the pictures can easily take them and help me identify who they all are.

But before we even get to that point,  do two things, and all of that would be unnecessary.  Get as much info on the back as possible.  I pick up a picture of a kid that has fallen out of a card.  It says on the back, "Justin, Age 9"  I can't tell how old the picture is, who "Justin" is, how he is related to me, where he is now so if I want to get in touch with him, I can...etc... So.  put "Justin Mullins, 1985, age nine. Uncle Bob's child.  Now I can identify him, find a Christmas Card that goes with the names, and everything's great.  It might also help if the place in the photo is marked... OKC house on 59th St, or something.

Same thing with Obituaries... because I threw a lot of those away.  If the person in the Obit was the mother of the co-worker of my grandmother (my mom knew everyone in Oklahoma City, and so she went through the Obits each night and usually found one or two a week she knew something about), or if it was someone who performed at the Lyric Theatre.... put that on there somehow, so I'll know how all these people related to your, and consequently, my life.

I have sorted out every Christmas Card given to my family for the past 40 years, I think. Wonderful time of year, and the letters they sent were great, and I still have those.  Here's some tips on Cards... for those writing them.  You want your card to languish in the family archives for years to come? Write something on them, not just "Merry Christmas, Love Bob."  It doesn't tell me anything.  For those receiving the letter, the date the letter was written would be good, and maybe who they are.  I'll be perfectly honest, there were quite a few letters from a "Mary K." that someone wrote to my grandmother.  There isn't anyone that could identify who that was, and the letters (and I read quite a few of them) gave me no real evidence except it was probably someone from church.  I felt like I was trying to collect information for a court case.  And actually, if you read Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, it makes sense. By going through letters, cards, photos, I started to know about my family's lives before I was even born.  I kept all the letters so that, one day, I can decipher the letters (bad handwriting runs in my family) and know more about them.

Newspapers are wonderful things to sort out, just take twice the sinus medication beforehand.  I kept those papers of important events (9/11, Elvis' Death, Kennedy Assassination, Atlanta getting the Olympics), and those that had family members in them (I'll scan some of them in someday, share them here).  A lot of them, I did throw away, as the events meant little to me, or they meant something, but not enough to keep something concrete for years and years for me to drag around. For instance, my mom kept quite a few papers about the death of Randy Poynter.  He was a seminal figure in the history of Rockdale County, especially in establishing the Water system here and pushing for the Lake (now named for him) that we use for a water supply instead of Lake Lanier like everyone else in Atlanta. He was someone to be admired and remembered, but to keep papers and articles about him for years to come.... I remember him, and people that come after me probably won't care, so it's not really all that important.  Keep stuff that lets people know about the life you lived, the people you cared about, and let it go at that.

So, when I go over my own things, I'm gonna look at the same things.  When I croak, when people come in to look through all my things, what will it say about my life? What can I show them, what was important to me, and would they think, "What a bunch of junk!" I hope not.  I think, if I had to take it with me, and I don't mean into the Afterlife, but if I could only take what I could carry, I would take a copy of my blogs and my written and note filled copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden. I could pick up whatever else I needed.  It is our thoughts that can never be regained. Everything else is but a souvenir in this life, "that slowly fades away."