Thursday, October 14, 2010

Digging through journal pages, sometimes surprising artifacts are found

Looking through an old journal recently, I was elated to find a photo of my Aunt Stella's bedroom pasted into one of its pages. It was within a sort-of collage I'd made as a tribute to my then-boyfriend in California. ("Thinking of him in North Carolina," I wrote on the opposite page.)

Last spring, a writing teacher had asked me to describe Aunt Stella's house in greater detail in an essay I'd written about her, but I couldn't remember its layout, especially beyond the front rooms most often seen by visitors. I thought maybe the guest room was in an isolated back corner of her house.

And there was the evidence in the photo—next to the guest bed is a door that leads to the hall. It added another piece to the jigsaw puzzle her house has become in my mind, almost all the rooms filled in now except for the mysterious bathroom that I can't visualize at all, save for the white enamel, claw-footed tub.

This is the only copy I have of that photo, the negative lost as far as I know. I know it is probably of little importance to anyone else—who else would care if there was a door there? There are only a few of us who can still conjure up the memory of her house as it was this point in time.

The photo is a document of a place I can no longer visit, as the house was sold years ago to people I don't know. Looking at it makes me feel a little more whole, like a missing piece of myself has been found. In that moment I feel like I am back home.

The boyfriend? Long gone, his head folded down in the collage (as seen above) so I could get a better scan of the other photos. And yet he is what I thought was important the moment I glued them in; I thought he would be important to me forever.

A journal can provide accidental but valuable artifacts of your life, even when you don't realize you're placing them in there, the years like layers between the moment you write something and the moment you read it.

Perhaps it's best not to censor or edit yourself too much as you compile a journal. The future-you sometimes knows best what to look for, what has value that lasts.

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