The Reluctant Archivist

Scrolls of the Poobah

Way up on one of my top bookshelves are a half dozen old ledger books that I used as journals when I was a youngster. The oldest I can find begins in Lexington, KY on April 11-12, 1975 - I apparently started on one day and wrote past midnight into the next - but I know there were earlier volumes. I seem to recall beginning them sometime in 1968 or 1969 at age 13 or 14.

I wrote them during a tumultuous time. I was a school-age kid with a schizophrenic mother, a Dad who struggled to keep up with odd work shifts and holding the dysfunctional family together, and a sister who dropped her child off with us (well, usually me) and disappeared for weeks at a time.

And of course, I wrote about the same things any other school kid writes about too - girls, the terror of the neighborhood bullies, my pet Boston Terrier, and the loosening grip I felt I had on my own sanity.

I devoted quite a few hours in that pre-computer world writing out all my feelings in cramped long hand. In between the journals, I found time to write excessively bad poetry - a couple of large volumes of that too. It was so bad I burned it at 18 because I feared someone would find the embarrassing crap.

I've never looked back on the decision. I'm a professional writer and I can still remember a few lines. Trust me, this was really, really bad poetry.

The journals haven't been opened in at least 25 years. All that time they've been sitting up there, a blueprint to the person I was and not so interesting to the person I've become. I'm sure my therapist would find it quite the treasure trove - a sort of ancient pyramid filled with all the dusty old pots and mummies any diligent therapist could hope for. Something to sink her Jungian teeth into.

Recently, the Poobette pulled one down, read a little piece, and gently and innocently teased me about the depth of my young angst - thankfully so different from her own. I hadn't thought about them in years and I began to wonder what I was thinking in that distant time and place.

It took me a few weeks to find time to pick one up, turn a few of the brittle pages, and read some of what I'd written. I found it very difficult.

I'm not normally a reflective person. I keep few family pictures and I've never kept any of the professional shots I took when I dreamed of a career as a photojournalist. I find it tedious when friends or family sit and talk about times past. I don't spend much time thinking about what might have been if I'd done this or that thing differently.

Frankly, I never really felt the need. My memories are in my head and more vivid than an old picture or a crumbling journal, sometimes scarily so. I've spent most of my life struggling to manage the present, glad to avoid the past, and feeling dubious about the future. As a kid, I used to aspire to a career doing something hermit-like - working in a fire tower perhaps. My goal was to put as many miles between myself and society as I could. Time has softened my stance a little, but I'm still not what you'd call a sociable kind of guy. I'm long on silence and short on small talk when it comes to social groups and I have little patience for making friends or influencing people.

But now that I've taken them down, they're laying there like some kind of challenge I never signed up for. The fleeting thought to torch these too crossed my mind, but if memory serves me correctly, they were pretty well done (unlike the poetry). And I'm sure they were more accurate than my poetry that soared more like a chicken that like an eagle.

Should I read them? Should I share portions with you? Should I expand my trip back in time and collect some of the old newspaper clippings also floating around our overstuffed house? What happens if memory fails me and they're crap too? Burn them? Bury them in the yard?

The Omnipotent Dad is also bundling up and shipping all his old photos to me too. I guess I'm becoming the keeper of the family archives. On the one hand, I'm not so sure I want the job, and on the other I feel a little obligated to the Poobette and Mrs. Poobah to fill in the holes in my fractured background.

Or maybe I do want the job and just don't know it. It's at times like these that I wish I still kept a traditional journal. They were perfect for working out this sort of thing. But that's a post for another day.

Advice anyone?

Bring it On!

The Poobah also appears at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, August 07, 2006

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