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The Writer’s Curse (and Blessing)

Imagine that if you touched an object, you could be magically transported to the place and time it came into your possession. Now think of the power of memory. Did you keep your school awards, or did you throw them away right after you got home from the assembly? After your first breakup, did you delete every photo or did you keep a couple to remember the good? Have you kept things, only to throw them away years later?

When you come into my room, the first thing you’ll see is my bookshelves filled with books, plants, and a bunch of random objects. Dried roses in an August Thirtieth candle. A Himalayan salt candle holder. A row of journals dating from 2011 to the present.

My Medieval Lit Professor once explained to us that we don't have much of a record of the Early Middle Ages (wrongfully named The Dark Ages) because nothing was written down and there was nothing to write on.

What a horrifying fear for writers. A thousand years worth of culture, events, and records forgotten. So many people erased from history.

Maybe it’s our fear of mortality or a delusional vision of self-importance, but writers don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to live like that. I want to live on between the pages of my books, and, even if it all burns down, posterity will find my digital footprint, right down to the stories on my Wattpad, which I have long since forgotten the password for.

If I had a quarter for every time someone told me that I have a lot of stuff, I could pay off my student loans. I’d love it if everyone could understand why writers are low-key hoarders, and why we vehemently defend this practice. All I can say is that I have an insatiable need to be a record keeper, especially of my own life.

I have been told all my life that I should downsize or give things away.

My boyfriend has even told me that maybe I could give some of my children’s books to actual children to read since they’ve been sitting and collecting dust for over a decade. A wonderful idea. Loved pages shared. Words I’ve written in the margins and doodles I’ve drawn could be cherished by a different life.

The thought pains me.

Dramatic? Maybe. Honest? Totally. I know it’s an option to shed layers that I don’t need anymore. Do snakes keep their skins after they’re shed? No. But snakes don’t really care to look back at their growth and change over the years of their lives. And they certainly won’t give their books to their children. It’s called a bookworm, not a booksnake. We shed nothing. We devour.

If the energy is right, it’s better to keep things. But if the energy is wrong . . .

Let it go, or store it away.

I recently went to a Friendsgiving where I had a wonderful time with my friends. The trip was comforting and gave me a much needed reprieve from my everyday life. I took something with me on this trip that I needed to let go of. Tucked in the pocket of a small red journal in my suitcase, was the polaroid of the very first Friendsgiving my college friends and I have ever had in the fall of 2017. Three of us in the original photo were present at this most recent one. The others were off in another state, or had become strangers to us, in good, neutral, or bad ways.

It hurt to look at this picture. I could feel the pride of how I single handedly tackled and succeeded in cooking this giant turkey, but I was also privy to the deepening sadness beneath my smile. Holding this relic coated me in fear and anger I wanted to scrub off. Journal entries from this time haven’t been read in years, but I can still recall the words. I tell others that if I write it down, I’ll remember. If I read it, I’ll remember. It’s how I’ve passed every test and gone to every event on time. Remembering felt like a curse and I hated that the writer in me couldn’t destroy this photo.

So I gave it to my friend. Sometimes the collector must understand when an object holds too much weight for her to carry. Heather does a beautiful job in explaining how to tell the difference in her blog post, Spring - Shining Light on Growth; Cleansing.

Maybe it’s because it’s the end of the year. Maybe it’s because I’m visiting friends I haven't seen in 2 years. Or maybe it’s because Taylor Swift is my top artist on my Spotify Wrapped and that really says it all.

Reminiscing and flipping through the archive of my life is coming way too easy. I keep finding myself hovering my hand over the trash can icon or a literal trash can.

I was going through my Google Photos because I got another storage alert, as I said in 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Being a Writer, and it brought back so many memories. Looking at the girl in those photos is like looking at a different person. A high school Mei-Mei, whose palms would sweat profusely when she raised her hand in class. A Poets’ Club President Mei-Mei, who would always need to pee before she performed in front of over 100 people. Sucked into this domino effect, I went to Spotify and listened to the beginnings of my “Liked Songs” and I was transported to my first prom, to my first breakup, and to my bedroom in Germany.

I read through my old journal entries and it: one, reminded me how much I miss poetry, and two, showed me how I have this complete archive of my thoughts from 2011 to now. I can track my healing and the decisions I made while being broken. I see the cries for help from bouts of depression when I had no idea I had MDD. I see the entries from when I was in group therapy—the doodles that started jagged and all black to flowers colored in highlighter. It’s both a blessing and a curse to see one’s pain, joy, and everything in between.

I have a jar of compliments my high school friends gave to me as a birthday present/graduation gift. They told me to save it for the “bad days.” Sometimes, I still open it back up and read the compliments and random jokes scribbled on tiny sticky notes.

Nostalgia. Remembrance. Writers are damn good at recording everything. And keeping it all. We are both the archive and the archiver. We’ll hold phrases in our minds and our notebooks. If you’ve said something of note to a writer, good or bad, you can bet it will be written into a song, a poem, or even dialogue in a novel. I have kept texts that I’ve found hilarious and also ones that hurt me. They remind me that at this time, this thing existed. They also . . . may help me write a character one day. Or several.

I’ve never really seen anyone write about this, so I typed “the writer’s curse of remembering” into Google and this blog by Rachel Louise Snyder popped up. I was two paragraphs in when I realized that she understood exactly what I’ve been feeling lately and ruminating about 31,000 feet in the air for hours, sitting alone with my thoughts in those tiny plane chairs.

“And what is the detailed memory of a life, but a kind of symbol of the age in which one lived? Is the task a burden or a privilege? Is it sacred or self-persecution?”

What I love about this sentence is that Snyder shows the multifaceted qualities of memory. The things we keep can be happy with a tinge of sadness. Angry with the hope of forgiveness. The image reminds me of Disney’s Inside Out, where by the end of the movie, rather than memories being one color, they are mixed, because as we grow and learn, our feelings get more complicated.

So let’s talk about my bookshelf. The Himalayan rock salt candle holder is from high school—I wouldn’t call it a gift from my ex. He didn’t want it and I was the one who took it off his hands. It’s one of the few things I kept from my room in Germany and when I see it, I can smell my old house and see the dresser it sat atop of. I can see the shingles of the roof I could climb onto from my window. It connects me to another home, another version of Mei.

The dried roses are from my stepdad. He brought flowers home from a patient because he knew I liked them. The candle they’re in was a birthday gift from my boyfriend and is hands down the best smelling and best burning candle I’ve ever gotten. My journals are an extension of myself and they hold thoughts I can reflect and learn from. I can flip back and write songs from the perspective of an old self or rework stories I’ve already written. We are ever-growing and ever-changing, but it’s okay to keep a record.

With this year coming to an end, remember it’s okay to keep things that connect you to old parts of yourself. Flip through your archive with intention. Does this make me happy? Does seeing this weigh me down? Will I come back to this in the future? Can I turn this into art that I love?

There’s a fine line between keeping memories and living in the past, and it’s up to you to recognize where that is for yourself. The power and judgment is already within you.

Good luck with reminiscing and making TikTok compilations of this past year. Happy holidays and, of course, happy hoarding. ❤

Remember. It’s your life, in all its complicated glory. You are allowed to keep things. Bonus points if you can write about it.

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About the Author

Mei-Mei is LYF's Executive Assistant, Event Coordinator, and Editor-in-Chief. She graduated from UC, Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English and a minor in German. She was the President of UCSB Poets' Club. She has traveled to 12 countries and counting, feeling lucky and cursed as an Army brat. In 2019, she moved for the 9th time from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, where she put her love for writing, performing, advocating for mental health, and building communities into the Love Yourself Foundation. Thankfully she can choose when she moves now, so you'll see this jack-of-all-trades singing on stage and juggling open mic sign-up sheets, hoping to spread love in all the ways she can.

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