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.


I gaze at my reflection in the mirror.  I wonder who I am, if I am worthy.  I wonder what other people think of me.

I was probably a preteen when I remember first staring at myself long and hard.  I was riding down the highway with my older brother, peering into the car’s mirror.  I remember thinking that I had soft, feminine features.  I didn’t look like a man.  Of course, I was not a man, not like my brother was, but I felt that I should have looked more masculine.  My pudgy, round face and red cheeks were completely opposite of how I wanted to look.  My narrow, pink lips and long eyelashes (the ones my mother had always made such a fuss over – “Look how LONG they are!”) certainly did not help my cause.  In fact, after I had stared at my face for quite awhile, feature by feature, my visage sort of morphed into that of a girl.  My mind asked, What if I was a girl?  This face would be OK if I was.  I would make a better girl than boy.  

And no, I am not transgender – never have been, never will be.  It just seemed at this time that my face was not suited to sitting on a boy’s body.  The rest of me was very boyish.  I was husky (fat if you will), with broad shoulders and strong arms.  It was my soft, fragile face that belied me.

Even today, if I pause long enough to study my features in the mirror, my face doesn’t look strong.  I still have a chubby face and rosy red cheeks, only now I have crow’s feet, bags under my eyes, and graying sideburns to go along with them.

I suppose everyone says it at one time or another, but this face has seen a lot.  For 43 years it has presented me to the world, everyone who I have come in contact with.  It’s been with me through all the bad days, as well as the few good ones.

I have a small scar right beside my right eye.  When I was about four, I was running in the back of my father’s drugstore, where all the medicine bottles were kept on tall metal shelves.  I tripped and smacked my face right into one of the shelves.  I cried, man oh man did I cry.  They were huge, soppy tears that went on for a good while.  I don’t remember anything about the incident after that, but I must have gone to the town doctor to get stitches.  At any rate, the scar is not something I ever thought about growing up – it was just part of me, not something to be embarrassed about.  Later, in my teenage years, someone asked me about it, and I told them the story of how it happened.  Then I realized that the scar kind of made me bad, the good kind of bad.  I had a war wound in a visible place, almost like a tattoo must make you feel when you show it off for the first time.

I have another small scar below my lower lip.  I have no idea how I got it.  I don’t remember getting it – I just remember one day looking in the mirror and there it was.  How could I never have noticed it before?  I do not know.

My nose is crooked.  I noticed for the first time in high school.  My girlfriend’s friend was looking straight on at me in class one day when she remarked, “Your nose is crooked.”  I went home and looked in the mirror later, and agreed, that yes, it is indeed crooked, pointing slightly to my left.  It’s not extremely noticeable, but easily spotted once you’re looking for it.  Once again, I don’t know if it has always been like that, or if some long-forgotten face smash left me that way.  To this day, my wife swears that she broke my nose when we were wrestling one night, and that it has been crooked ever since.  Yes, her foot whacked me soundly right on the side of my snout, causing a loud “pop”, but my nose was crooked long before that night.

I have a unibrow.  It first became prevalent when I hit puberty.  My father used to say that it made me look mean, like a bulldog I’m guessing.  He meant it in a kidding sort of way.  As I went through high school and on into college, I became more self-conscious of it.  The thought of shaving it never really entered my mind.  That was just something you didn’t do.  If you had a unibrow, then you had a unibrow.  Finally, in my senior year of college, as I was making arrangements to attend seminary (which I never did do), I shaved it right before heading to the seminary for a get-acquainted weekend.  I wanted the people there to think I was a happy, light-hearted person, and I thought that shaving it would help lessen the impact of my thick eyebrows and my eyes, which I thought sat too far back in my head.  I don’t know if it worked or not.

My left earlobe is bigger, redder, and puffier than my right one.  I first noticed this about 16 years ago.  I was looking in the mirror and as I was studying the symmetry of my face, I noticed that there was no symmetry in my ear lobes.  Somehow, without my knowledge, the left one had developed a noticeable droop and was puffier than the other one, like some sort of amorphous blob.

I may have other notable facial characteristics, or perhaps they are already there and I haven’t noticed them yet.  At any rate, my face, as with all faces, has evolved into something more than what it once was.

When we’re children, our faces are bright and smooth, without the cares of the world chiseled into them.  As we go through life, our faces grow and change along with our minds and the rest of our bodies.  They become layered with age; we have wrinkles, moles, freckles, scars, and sun damage that all add to the painting that is our face.

A great artist begins his portrait with a one dimensional drawing of a face, then one by one paints in the features that make the individual unique.  The experience of life does that same thing to our faces. They have much more and are much more in our later years than we can ever imagine as a child.  It is fascinating to me to look at an adult’s childhood picture, with its young, clean face, and see how time and genetics have layered on the characteristics that slowly transform a girl into a woman and a boy into a man.

Who knows what my face will look like in 20 or 30 years?  It will still be me, only with more stuff added on.  Just as my face right now is the most complex it has ever been, my face then will be an even more complex masterpiece, slowly created through the process we call living.