The Culling


We are keepers.  Somewhere in our DNA we have been programmed to hold onto things, little bits of memory that connect us with long-forgotten events and milestones.  I'm particularly endowed with this incessant need to harbor myriad objects, papers, photographs, newspaper clippings and assorted trinkets. In fact, I have a new box of memories - as several others are full to the brim, stored away in the dark recesses of our basement - tucked under my desk, just to the right of my big toe as I write this blog post.

I'm not certain what inspired me to grab one of the older boxes and begin the first cull.  I say "first cull" because I clearly understood when I started yesterday evening, that this was going to be a long and extended process of letting go, of releasing myself from the physical tethers to memories of long ago.  This may end up being the first of many culls, stretched out over a number of years.

Mining through the memories, there were certain things that easily found their way into recycling containers or into the garbage:
  • Assorted birthday and special event cards, by the hundreds, were easily tossed.  What possible value can there be in holding onto identical cards from my 9th birthday with a couple of names signed inside?  How many times over the course of my life have I picked these up and decided that they had to stay?  Crazy!
  • Awards and plaques from high school for general proficiency (doesn't that sound exciting?) and sportsmanship - performance markers from my youth that have been boat anchors for nearly three decades.
  • Full newspapers containing a small piece of information that might hold value.  They are called scissors; it's time to use them.  Snip snip.
  • Photographs of buildings, landscapes or people that I can't identify.  What is the possible point of holding onto these?  How they've managed to survive this long befuddles me.
  • Colouring books from the early 1970s, illustrating the ability I had to keep the crayon between the lines.  Do I need the physical proof that I had developed that skill?  Probably not.  Toss, toss.
  • Old ledgers that delineate in painful detail the poverty-level wages I earned during my formative working years as a donut baker, room service attendant and radio personality.  The handwritten spreadsheets stretch way back, long before the advent of Quicken, and contain a level of detail that I completely ignore today.  Burn, burn.
But buried in the detritus of my messy box of memories are also items too precious to part with, things that open the curtain to a story that one day might be worth telling to whomever might be willing to listen, items that inspire laughter, tears, gratitude.  These are a few that survived the culling, to live another day:

Daytime from September 1983
  • Schedulers that chronicle my life going back to the early 1980s.  I'm not sure why, but I can imagine spending a rainy Sunday in the autumn of my years going through these things, some intensely detailed, others just having the broad strokes.  Contained within are significant markers, including births, deaths, the start of new jobs and myriad special events and relationships.
Note that Mr. Wenner passed around in 1983 as many of us were falling asleep during a concert
  • I found a note that our band teacher, Mr. Wenner, wrote and passed around while we were at the Toronto International Band Festival in 1983, a jolt to those of us who had drifted off to sleep.  It was passed from student to student until it came to me at the end of the row.  I kept it and will still keep it now, because it takes me right back to a very specific moment that is interesting to me. Mr. Wenner retired a couple of weeks ago, and I think he'll get a kick out of the fact that I've kept that note for almost  30 years.
Snarky comment from Mr. Moriarty
  • I'm still on the fence as to whether the pile of essays and assignments will survive future culls, but for now, they will live to see another day.  I love looking at some of the snarky comments written in the margins from Mr. Moriarty, appropriate snipes at a writing skill that had yet to be developed.
Who Killed Aunt Caroline - KCI Drama (1982 or 83)
  • Perhaps it's the historian in me, but I keep holding on to items that might be of historical value: newspaper clippings, hand-written letters and cards from my parents and grandparents, old programs from theatre productions and the like.  Knowing that there is a list of people that were in such and such a production back in the day is comforting to me, as names fade over time.
With my oldest friend Delton at the end of our horse riding adventure in the summer of 1983
  • There are various trip journals that have survived, narratives that piece together that 55-hour bus trip to Toronto for the band festival, the exchange trip I took to Quebec, or that incredible horse-riding / butt-destroying adventure I went on in Manitoba.  Perhaps as a precursor to my blogging practice of today, I spent my quiet time capturing my feelings and impressions about the things I was going through.  Today, they provide a window to the past, as my blogs will do years from now - though in a much more public way.
I feel good for having started this process, for vocalizing more than a number of times "this means nothing to me", and following that assertion with a decisive toss into the recycling bin.  The box of memories, now significantly lighter, will return to its appointed place on the shelf in the basement, until the need to de-clutter hits me again somewhere down the crazy river.

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