Sags and Bags

Looking back through old high school yearbooks is always fun for me. Taking time to sit down and revisit old memories is one of the things I like to do best. Usually it happens when I’m not expecting it. I’ll be cleaning out a closet or going through some old boxes, and all of a sudden this wonderful book of memories is in my hand.

I’ll see an old friend’s picture and I’ll think, Boy, he looks really young. Nowadays he looks old and wrinkled, telltale signs that he is losing the battle with time and aging. He’s got the same face as he had then, but it is definitely more complex now — more wrinkles, lines, and sags. Underneath is still that fresh-faced teenager, except that the passing years have added baggage to it.

It reminds me of using Photoshop to enhance a photo or drawing by adding layers to it. The original image of the person, landscape, or object is still there, only now it has been deepened with additional features.

I believe that the process and experience of writing is similar to the way a person ages.

Periodically I will take time and look through old journals of mine that I keep safely locked away in an old suitcase I bought at a yard sale. Some of the entries date back almost 30 years, but the most interesting ones I wrote in my high school and college days.

In particular, I have an old, blue, single-subject Mead notebook that we were required to journal in for my English class my senior year in high school. We would write in them, and every couple of weeks the teacher would collect them, read them, make comments, and return them to us.

The content of this particular journal is not nearly so personal as most of my other writings, due to the fact that I knew someone else would be reading it. Our teacher told us over and over to “write what is personal, but not what is private.”

Richard Nordquist does a wonderful job here of explaining the difference between public and private writing. He also tells us how keeping a journal can be therapeutic and gives us a few suggestions on how to get started. His article would have been helpful to me back in high school,  as I was often stretched in trying to find suitable topics to write about, something that was interesting to me and that I thought the teacher would find worthwhile.

Every time that I go back and read through my old Mead notebook I am amazed that some of the thoughts, feelings, and fears I had as a 17- or 18-year-old are still there, bouncing around in my brain.

I was so worried about the future back then. Many entries detailed my fear at choosing the right college for the following year, and what my life would be like one year from that day, and about girls that I liked but were too afraid to ask out. I still think in much the same way as I did then; many of the fears I have now fall along similar lines, although with more adult themes..

Even though a lot of times the subject matter I write now is very similar to what I wrote as a teenager, my emotions and my writing style are more mature, more elaborate now than when I was younger. I may write the same things I did then, but hopefully I write them better now, with more layers, more depth.

Same face, more wrinkles. Same writing style, more depth.

My years of life experience — with all its pain, sadness, happiness, and tears — makes this added dimension possible. It is something that can not be substituted with something else, nor can it ever be taken away.

  When I sat down recently to read through this treasured old notebook, I noticed a couple of very intriguing things. After a long fall and winter of lingering, grinding depression, in March of 1987 — the latter part of my senior year — I wrote down four occupations that interested me:  Air Force pilot, drummer, psychologist, and writer.

I don’t know exactly how I came up with this list, and I don’t really recall wanting to pursue any of those occupations back then (except maybe writing, but that would have been a far-fetched idea at the time).

I suppose that I did dream of these others, however, because the ink on the page still can’t lie even after all these years.

The interesting part of this story is that of the four occupations I had written down so many years prior, in the weeks leading up to this last re-reading of the journal, I had spent time thinking about three of them (the Air Force would never have let me fly with my eyesight).

It’s amazing that after all these years, and all the jobs and careers I’ve experimented with, I still return to this same core of interests.

I’ll be forever grateful to my English teacher that year, Mrs. C., for requiring us to maintain a journal. Rereading it periodically over the years since graduation has been a wonderful source of joy and inspiration.

I recently found this blog entry from Mya. It’s amazing how similar her experience is when she looks through her closet and sees clothes and accessories dating back over the years and decades. She calls it “my window to myself”. This perfectly describes how I feel about my high school journal.

The tendency to romanticize the past has always been a significant weakness of mine; it goes hand and hand with my depression. I read in my blue journal that even as an 18-year-old I was longing for a simpler time.

In my journal I recalled camping out in my backyard with my best friend when we were in fifth grade. I was nostalgic for the movies and music of that wonderful summer. Reliving those childhood days, if only in my mind, helped me deal with the stresses of facing an unknown, potentially harsh future after high school graduation.

Nowadays my writing as an adult often reflects a longing for the simpler days of high school, when my biggest concerns (as recalled almost three decades later) were homework and girls — not a mortgage, kids, health concerns, and a job that is less than glamorous.

It seems I’ve never been satisfied with my present life.

I continue striving to take joy in my life on a daily basis. Maybe I just need to listen to God a little more closely.

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