Records of Myself
I have tried to keep a journal since middle school. I have tried to record my days, articulate my emotions, and spill my life onto the pages of a Moleskine notebook. And each time, I get bored after three days, and my journals end up being small spurts of rants between months of emptiness. I felt a need to journal because I felt a need to document my youth, to turn everything I was feeling and seeing into a fossil record of my high school experience.
But my high school experience is just that: my high school experience. I will never be able to genuinely relive the past. As much as I can smile at my concert tickets, cringe at my rants about my parents, and reflect on my descriptions of depression, the real things that I will remember from high school are the things that cannot be documented. No amount of journaling will ever create an experience or accurately document what I was feeling. The words on my Moleskine pages will have different meanings in ten years; I will not be able to completely understand what I meant or what was happening in my head at that point in time.
Genuine meaning exists in time itself. And although time is completely ephemeral and our memory consistently fails us in understanding the past, that is what makes our lives so beautiful. That is what makes youth so beautiful. Not just in the “live in the moment, cherish the present, etc” kind of way, but in that everything we are feeling right now, we will never feel again. Everything we are doing and seeing and thinking and feeling cannot truly be captured in a photo or diary entry.
I used to journal as a way to try and capture the meaning of things at that moment, like if I wrote something down then it really did exist, or if I wrote something down then someone could read about in 100 years and better understand my life and the 21st century. But my life exists regardless of if it is noticed or not. Forgetting something is almost like making it nonexistent, if you believe that the only moment that exists is the present. But I do think the past exists in the sense that even though we cannot “go back in time” with our consciousness, the past is very much real, there for nobody to see but for the purpose of giving us context in our lives.
We might forget that day in computer science class where we felt lost about the future, making us even more unaware of how far we’ve come since we experienced the past. But each thing we have experienced is imprinted in time -- not just tangible things like writing a letter or making a piece of art, but the energy and love are imprinted in time, like another dimension that we just can’t see. Our inability to relive experience makes growing up a bit sad in its temporality. But that is what makes it human, fleeting and confusing and deeply important, ingrained in our identity the same way it is ingrained in time.
The months of emptiness in my journal indicate, on the surface, that I did not exist in that time. There is no record of me during that time period. But obviously that’s not true. The sensation of being mysterious to oneself, unseen to the outside world, is incredibly terrifying, especially because of social media and technology giving us the resources to document literally everything we do. But everything we do is not everything we are. Everything I am is known only to myself, and it will exist only as I am alive. And that is completely okay, even fundamental to our understanding of life.
I received a letter from my past self last week, one page from one year ago. It is nothing special, just me telling myself a year from then how I hoped I did well in school and listing my favorite books and movies with the hopes of giving myself a route to the past. It was sweet to read a letter from myself and reflect on how much has changed and how much I would come to understand since then, but the letter is not a portal, nor is it completely honest and accurate. The person I was when I wrote that letter exists only one year ago. I was thinking about writing myself a letter for next year (when I graduate high school!) but I don’t think I will. Writing that letter validates the notion that we only exist if we leave a tangible trail, a record of ourselves. I realize this is inherently contradictory as I write about not wanting to leave a record. But that’s okay.
I exist regardless of who notices me and what they see in me. Life is fundamentally personal, giving us infinite opportunities to grow for the sake of growing, write for the sake of writing, hoping that we can better understand the present rather than obsessively documenting what we think is the past. I am my present, and I exist.