We’ve been cleaning the attic. Mostly it’s a matter of winnowing, clearing out some of the older and more useless junk in order to make room for the new junk we’re presently accumulating. Of course there are the physical mementos, the old baseball gloves and so on, but mostly it’s paper: receipts, documents, forms, reports, notes, letters. I’m pretty efficient; nostalgia doesn’t typically waylay me. For me a stroll down Memory Lane feels more like digging up a graveyard.

I have however found myself decontextualizing the junk.

I know what these old things used to mean, their purpose and value, their provenance and history, their rise and fall. But what if all this junk had been somebody else’s junk, stacked up in somebody else’s attic? Unplugging it from the context it once occupied for me, alienating it, rendering it opaque, stripping it of meaning — I’d likely be even less hesitant about getting rid of it: if it’s not valuable to me in the here and now then it’s worthless. But if I took the time to scrutinize these things one by one, sorting and categorizing them and piecing them together, would I be able to infer some sort of backstory for them, some context, however alien to me, into which they once fit together? Let’s call that sort of meaning-making the Rosebud Protocol.

Or, invert figure and ground: keep the context but drain it of its contents. Each empty cardboard box, each hanging file, each manila folder has a label already affixed to it: family history, class notes, expert-novice differences, AI system specs, questionnaires design/scoring, national demonstration project, startup business plan, taxes, insurance, home buy/sell, homelessness, ex-/repatriation. What sorts of junk, in what alternate realities, might fill up these empty sets, these blank slates, these formless voids?


3 thoughts on “Attic

  1. I’ve been shifting around a good bit in my life, over the past decade or so, as such my context changes quite a bit, and often the things that I’m taking with me change their purpose and meaning with each new transition. Unlike yourself I tend toward nostalgia, so all these transitions can be a bit disconcerting. That tends to be a good thing, though, by and large, because it keeps me aware of the ever-changing nature of my experiences. Not to get too Buddhist-y but nostalgia can become a mentality that is static, fossilizing the perspective, at least for me.

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  2. “often the things that I’m taking with me change their purpose and meaning with each new transition.” Me too. I’m pretty sure you’d agree that writing fiction relies heavily on real-life past experiences that have been repurposed and recontextualized. I find it hard to aestheticize experiences while I’m in the middle of them; they have to be packed away for a while in the attic, or maybe in the cellar — condensed, distilled, aged in oak.

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    1. Likewise. That’s very true for me. My novel is now going on four or five years in process — other book projects have been in the queue longer, with a hundreds, maybe thousands of pages of writing and notes — but somehow it doesn’t feel like I’m dragging my feet on any of it. I just need time to let things marinate in the mind…It’s a lot harder to say what you want/mean than I would ever have imagined prior to embarking on this life of a writer.

      Liked by 1 person

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