Wednesday, September 23, 2009

They called me "Maudlin" at the Institute...

Coralius said:
You're getting a bit maudlin, aren't you?

That's somewhat true. I've been nostalgic lately, and that's sometimes not a good thing. I worry about my mortality, what I've missed, what I've lost, etc. The antidote is the opposite, of course. By this same measure of going back and poking around, I came across some things that really brought a smile to my face.

I went back and found some of my responses to the "5 Questions" podcast, sadly no longer active. I think I found it through Mur Lafferty's podcast. We were there at the ground floor on that one; it was one of the first interactive podcasts, and we were on there almost every week. Coralius, me, and Philoman constantly emailed our excitement at having our answers chosen back and forth. That made me smile (and laugh -- Cor's response on dying "drowning in breasts" still makes me guffaw), and I think I'll go back and check the podcast archives out again.

Looking back like that also makes me realize how few day-to-day memories we really keep. I ran across an article the other day talking about keeping a day journal - not really an blow-by-blow account of every action, reaction, and emotion, but more of a "memory tickler" that took a couple of lines to say, "X, Y, and Z happened today."

Besides being a mnemonic aid, any time you write things like that down, they become something that lives beyond you. Old journals, letters, and photos connect us to the past. I may not have a great idea of what my grandfather was like when he was young -- but I have pictures. I've read the letters he wrote to my grandmother from an Army hospital, having lost a leg and been sent back to the states. I learned that he wanted to marry her, despite her father not seeing it as a good match, particularly with him being disabled. And I know she went to him anyway.

If I can even leave a fraction of something like that, I can breathe easier and let go some of my existential issues for a while.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Every once in a while I dig back through the years and years of emails that I have stored up in my first webmail account (yes, I'm still using the same Hotmail address that I had before Microsoft bought them out so long ago), just to see what I and my friends were saying. There's the usual jokes, quips, and interesting links. There are old forum registrations, sales receipts for online stores that don't exist anymore, responses from writers and artists from back in the "Wild West" days of the internet when you could write to just about anyone that was online and get a response. I suppose that last part may have come full circle with Twitter, but I digress.

I look back, and I get a solid glimpse of who I was, who I spent time with, and more. I see what made us laugh and cry, each with the original words. Someone may look in my "Inbox" and see thousands and thousands of messages, most of them from machines rather than people. As you go back farther and farther, though, and look at what has been kept, and you get a picture of me and of the people in my life. There are bits of excitement and sadness, long letters and short missives, all weaving together into a picture mirroring and sharpening my memories.

Included in that mass is some of the best character writing I ever did, fleshing out superheroes for an online fighting league. I don't write that well now, so I sort of wonder how I managed it then. I must have been particularly engaged in those things. I'm reading letters from people that are no longer here, remembrances from people I haven't seen in a decade or more, and things more melancholy. A friend emailed me with the revelation that her stepchildren were sexually abusing her birth son. I don't have that letter, though I remember the desperation, self-recrimination, and begging for help. I do, for some reason, have the response I sent, reassuring her and making the case that the actions of two little sociopaths were theirs alone.

For me, I guess it's the same sort of thing as going through old boxes of letters and pictures. It's a digital memory book. It's just as permanent as any other, I guess. Such things are subject to the hazards of time, and this one has at least once been on a failed server that could only partially be restored, so I don't have everything. Somewhere along the way, things fade away. This is just another way of fighting back.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Old Times

I'm the type of geek who is generally down on social networking sites. I am not a fan of the Mybook or Facespace, in general. In particular, the idea of reconnecting with those from my past is something I've held little regard for. Most of my personal history is not filled with what could be called "social success". While it isn't as bad as what blogger Mark Chu-Carroll went through, nor is it that I hold any real grudge at this point, I just don't feel that need to connect in that direction.

I do search for people from the past, sometimes, just by looking up the names, maybe throwing in a town I heard associated with them once. I don't have a real urge to talk, just to see if they have a presence so that I can, however briefly, be a voyeur. I want to see how they made out in the end. I've rarely found anyone I've looked for. There's one guy running a religious marriage counseling firm (not a surprise), a doctor (a surprise to some, probably, but not me), and someone just getting into student life. It's that last one that almost made me want to get in contact with someone from my past. She rather unknowingly influenced a lot of who I grew up to be, and planted some of the first real seeds of confidence I ever had.

We were, at best, friendly acquaintances. Lots of the same classes and clubs, a couple of mutual friends; that was the interaction level. We knew each other without knowing details; she was one of the few people with whom I could be myself without worrying about being accidentally antisocial, because she wasn't concerned with a lot of the high school status bullshit. She was an artist and writer, already better at that point than I ever aspired to be. She just liked people, and that made her comfortable to be around.

It's trite to think that anything you offhandedly say or do at that age can really affect someone, but she managed to do that with a couple of sentences in my senior yearbook. What she said was, essentially, "I wouldn't mind to be in a world run by you." There was more to it than that, but it came down to the idea that I was worth more than a "see you soon!" platitude.

I occasionally think about those words still today, 15 years later. In just dashing off that idea, she let me know that I wasn't just flailing about in my attempts to relate. She let me know that, despite my horrid self-image, I wasn't a complete loser asshole.

This wasn't a girl I was ever interested in romantically, though she was attractive enough. This wasn't flirtiness, or a response to same; it was just a kind thought. It was unique, though. I'd never heard the sentiment "You're a decent person" in those terms before. Hell, I'd only rarely heard it at all, at least directed at me. It gave me something to build on.

In the years since, I've heard that she fell on hard times. Drugs, illness, even prostitution. It's not what anyone would've expected. I've kept an eye out online, even if just for a police blotter. For a long time, there was nothing. Then, just a few weeks ago, I found her MySpace page. There's no question it's her; aside from the unique name, the pics are clear. She's starting things now that people would've expected from her a decade and a half ago. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to drop off an email to someone from back then.

I kept browsing, though, and decided against it. She's got a distinctly different life and outlook than when I knew her (time and experience do that, I know). She does have a small gallery of her old work posted, clearly labeled as "The past"; it seems that such things as linked us then have no place anymore. I doubt she'd even remember me beyond a vague recollection; such is how it often is with those who unknowingly influence us.

Given what this woman has been through, I was still tempted to at least send a note. I wanted to apologize for not managing to rule the world for the one person who thought it might be a good idea, and to thank her, because the part I've managed some control over is doing pretty good. Without her words, I don't know if that would have happened.