Life in a Box

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing my memoirs for quite some time. It probably started when I got fired the first time in 2009, although the sum-total of that memoir would have been the picking apart of my seven years at that firm, and ultimately–when I really put my mind to it–I couldn’t figure out what on earth I’d done that whole time. I really started thinking about writing when I got fired for the second time in 2009, because that particular stint (lasting seven months) left me with so much juicy material–thread upon thread of e-mail reparte forming a rather ugly fabric. But again, it would really only have been a memoir of that episode and the whole idea of documenting it without context made me unappealing to myself.

Then there was the more recent occupational debacle (also lasting seven months) that similarly had its draw for me to put it in writing. Oddly enough, it was also ugly and bizarre and perfect for showcasing to a world fascinated by the graphic details of misfortune. At least in that case, I didn’t get fired–although I no doubt would have if I’d actually been an employee instead of an independent contractor.

I’m not the smartest person in the room (well, actually I am since I’m in the kitchen alone; then again, NPR is tuned in the background, so yeah, I’m not the smartest person in the room), and I’m getting noticeably dumber by the day, but it hasn’t escaped my observation that I am the least common denominator in all these scenarios and perhaps there’s something I’m doing to contribute to my recent lack of employability. Truth be told, it’s entirely possible that my undoing has been my…doing. I keep trying to figure out where I went wrong in my career life so I can better understand where I am now and perhaps reach some method of making a living that doesn’t piss people off. I’m reminded of that line from early in the movie “Broadcast News,” where Jane is talking to Aaron on the phone, recapping a horrible day in which (1) her speech to a journalism class was met with apathy and rejection, and (2) her date with the handsome Tom was cut short by his early departure brought about by her condescension. Jane laments to Aaron, “I have crossed some line, somewhere; I am starting to repel the people I’m trying to seduce.”

So I thought it would be interesting, and possibly illuminating, to go back and revisit my own history, catalogued somewhat irregularly in journals, letters, and photographs. I’ve spent several days now thinking about how I would chronicle these things–transcribe everything into a Word document? Blog it? Capture it in a cloud so I could work on it anywhere with an Internet connection? Of course, these were all just delay tactics to keep me from simply starting. Today, after going to church and reading the paper and taking a nap and smoking several more cigaretttes than usual, I found the nerve. I knew there was a box in my garage containing the items in question, and I FINALLY went out to retrieve it.

Oh my goodness.

First of all, there were three boxes simply marked “Office,” and I knew that one of them contained the DATA–but which one? The first one I opened was the I-love-me box, filled with my diplomas, certificates, trophies, and medals. I remember back in high school, when I was winning those medals for running races and those trophies for academic achievement, I would lovingly display them on a shelf or a dresser in my bedroom, and I would revisit them and rearrange them and fondle them while recalling my former victories. But by the time I went to college it became clear that past achievements (and their decorations) failed to do anything for me and hauling them around from place to place actually became more of a depressant than anything else. It seems I was learning that such achievements only decrease in value once they are bestowed.

The second box I opened was filled with my grandpa’s sheet music, given to me by my dad over the past three decades. I had forgotten I still had it. It reminds me that I used to love playing the piano and even considered (at a very young age) pursuing a musical career the same way my grandpa did. This memory is a disappointment, an example of something I started but then never devoted any real or sustained effort to, and I am reminded that this is a pattern for me–in relationships, in academics, in jobs. I’ll start something and learn enough about it to do it well and even earn accolades for it, but as soon as the accolades stop I lose interest in taking it to the next level of expertise. This was especially apparent in my job at the fancy consulting firm, where I was very good at doing whatever project or task I was given but never delved into any subject matter that would prove me to be valuable to the firm over time.

The second box also reminded me that this was my dad’s junk passed along to me. My dad has a hard time letting go of stuff, particularly if it has some connection to his parents. We’ve had lengthy conversations about this. He thinks he gets the tendency from his mother, who always had a room in her basement filled with the stuff that got passed down to her from her parents; she never knew what to do with it but couldn’t get rid of it. So then she passed down all that stuff–plus her own stuff–to her children. Now Dad’s passing it down to me. But the chain will be broken here because I do NOT want to be surrounded by so much stuff that it could kill me if there was ever an earthquake in mid-Michigan. If I was in my garage during the mid-Michigan earthquake.

Of course the third box was the one I was seeking. I could tell as soon as I opened it and saw my first “diary,” one of those blank books with lines. I remember picking it out because I fancied the design, which was made to look like denim with a jeans-back-pocket outlined on the front. The first entry was from September 1978, so I was twelve years old and just starting the seventh grade. Is that when my life began? Where is the chronicle of the first eleven years? That’s probably going to be harder to piece together, given that it’s been over two-thousand years and they still haven’t figured out anything from Jesus’s life between early adolescence and age 30.

I read a few of the early entries in that diary; oh, the drama! From the start, I wanted a boyfriend. I hope I find that all these years I have had a “normal” focus on getting, maintaining, and keeping a significant relationship, but I have a strong feeling that my focus was perhaps more of a guiding principle than anything else–which would explain why something like a career would come up short in the grand plan.

In the box is also a bag containing several large envelopes. On the outside of each envelope is written a man’s (boy’s) name and a little heart symbol. Oh yes, I remember keeping all manner of letters, notes, cards, and such given to me by my sweetheart du jour. I thought it was cute, until I came across an envelope labelled “Mike.” I couldn’t recall having a significant relationship with a Mike! I pulled out one of the letters in it to see if I could refresh my memory. It was a letter in my own handwriting, written to “Mike,” and it was a tragic-goodbye-my-life-is-forever-changed letter. As I read it, I remembered my brief affair with a coworker at one of my jobs in Washington, D.C. He was newly married and we became friends, and that’s all I thought we were–until that day at happy hour when he put his hand on my leg in a meaningful too-much-tequila sort of way and suddenly I found we were more than friends. At the time when we called it off–yes, his wife found out–I was utterly devastated in the most real and tangible and profound way. But now, 20 years later, I didn’t even remember having been involved with him. This says a lot to me about the kind of perspective I ought to have if I want to life an authentic life and make a living doing so.

This also tells me that I’m probably going to uncover many lost memories, which may trigger both laughter and tears. Perhaps I will chronicle my findings in this blog while I transcribe the DATA elsewhere. Perhaps this will give me something to do while I try to figure out something to do to make a living.

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