I have a lot of posts in drafts. I start writing with a certain energy, overflowing with some immediate concern. But after a few paragraphs I slow down and stop and take a fresh look and decide that what I’m writing doesn’t serve me, or anyone, and that I should just stop. So I do.
How does it not serve? By mostly being of a negative nature, some sort of complaint or annoyance or outright whine.
Last time, a few days ago, the subject was the emotional burden that accumulated while I sorted through boxes of old papers. Mostly these were old photographs, but also collections of letters. They take up space, they crowd over me, they are of use and interest to no one — and they’re impossible to throw away. Why? Because as I hold them I can feel the spirit that held them years ago and decided they were worth keeping. It’s not as easy as we expect it should be to turn aside the desire of a cherished relative, especially when its physical manifestation is in hand. Worse, my father and both his parents were natural-born data-collectors: accountants and scientists. They were very deliberate in their collections and pretty well organized too. Their ghosts peer over my shoulder as I look through the things they and their parents left behind.
I have some good stuff, for example the original 1875 deed for my direct great-grandfather’s 250 acres of farmland where now a thousand houses form a large neighborhood in Livermore, CA. That’s a neat-o thing; I’ll keep it. I have some not so good stuff, for example the envelope of newspaper clippings a doting mother collected of her son’s high academic achievements at Richmond Union High School in 1943. These were treasured, especially while he was off and away for the War; but they’re not treasured by me.
It is specifically to mark their passing into my office trash can that I started and, any minute now, complete this blog entry. Clippings of his valedictory address, his return from war, his college graduation, his engagement and marriage …
There are not just a few envelopes of these sorts of things. There are entire boxes. Boxes of snapshots taken in the 1950s, 40s, 30s, 20s, 10s; baby portraits galore of people who died of old age decades ago; letters from dearly loved relatives whom I never knew and who probably no one still alive has even heard of. It goes on. The psychic cost to me is not insignificant. I need the physical and psychological space to do my own work. They have to go. Yet they also need their just due, their moment of attention, an active decision on their disposition. Do I really need the many letters of commendation and recognition that poured in upon my grandfather’s retirement as County Supervisor, Contra Costa County, in 1958? No, but will I throw them out? N-n-n-no. Not yet. Damn. So it continues.
Here’s a picture of the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of the San Pablo Dam Road in 1956. My grandfather is third from right.