Times past

I spent a large part of this morning going through my iTunes library – re-rating songs, adding them to playlists, filling in details, and so on. Every boy loves that stuff.

In the course of doing this you naturally listen to the songs you’re working on. Equally naturally, you find memories being recalled. You survey the chronological sweep of music and remember a time when a particular band was hot for you, and what you remember of that. You remember when you first heard a particular song, or where you were, and what memories you have attached since to it. It’s all pretty standard branding. Then I came across a bunch of Bossa Nova songs by Joao & Astrud Gilberto.

I love Bossa Nova, but I probably haven’t tuned into it much in recent years. There was a time that I listened to it all the time. I probably got into it in the early nineties, and kept at it until about 2004. Since then it’s only been sporadic. What I discovered in listening to these songs again, one after another, is that I have attached a very strong emotional reaction to this music. The memories, as they are, are fragmentary, but in their place is a pervasive sense of wistfulness. As you would, I seem to feel summer days, late nights, cool drinks, alluring women. I think there was a while when Bossa Nova was my go-to music when I brought a cute young chicky babe home.

All that returned to me, but with it came an utterly unexpected sensation. I felt desperately sad, as if this music was the soundtrack to a former happy life, now forever gone. I’m not that person anymore I felt, and while I accept that my life has changed since then I felt bereft thinking that I might have lost something of myself in the passing.

I sought to rationalise the feeling. A lot of things are in hiatus now, and have been for a while. In the archaeological record this will be a dark layer of ash. It’s easy to think in the midst of it that all that came before is lost, and that whatever comes next will be different. When you’re in the moment all you know is the moment. And so the carefree memories of hot summer nights and cool women and Bossa Nova are history.

Normally I would pass over something like this, a little troubled by the impression, but willing to shrug it off. But as it happens there is something that happened yesterday that’s consistent with the feelings today.

I was out having a beer with Whisky and VJ at the Brighton Baths. It was a near perfect day. We were all in our shorts sitting on the front terrace of the club overlooking a wonderful vista of bright sun shimmering on the blue waters of the bay. Kite surfers jinked across the blue sky, and in the distance the city appeared indistinct through the heat haze. I had a cold beer in my hand sitting with two of my best friends. It was all good, but then all at once I felt a pang.

I was looking out over the water. It was so perfect and I felt aware of it. It made me think of the hundreds of occasions before I’d had a moment like this; and the thousands more sweet and easy when instead of the sea there was something else. I’m lucky in that I’ve had a rich, convivial, extroverted life. Here’s the rub though, thinking all that I suddenly felt as if those moments were running out. Sure, here I was enjoying something splendid, but it felt false, like a last hurrah. That was my last life, my life before this. That life, I felt, had ended.

It felt bitter. There will come a time when there will be much more behind me than before. To know that must be hard, but that was what I felt then. And realistically as I get older there will be less days like this, but more of another type. I did not have that though. The ‘other type’ did not exist for me. What I had was this teasing replay of times past.

Here I am, a rational, calm man. I’m not given to extravagant emotion. I don’t dwell on the negative. As much as I can I forge ahead. That’s all well and good, but there is a part of the self that moves independently of the mind. It’s clear to me that that part has become wedged, wistful for the past and despondent about the future. I hate that, and can’t live with that belief. It’s a tight run thing I think, but I have to use this sense as motivation for the future, to make it as it was before.


In your eye

I’m back in the house, much of the meat plucked from the bone by the vultures that came before me. It’s quite a bleak outlook. The place is, I guess, about half empty now – much, though not all, of the furniture remains, but little else. Most of the prints are gone from the walls, the multitude of knick-knacks and decorator items mum had have been removed, all the lamps are missing, a coffee table, even some towels, mugs, and so on. What remains paints a pretty sorry tale. It hits home to you again, mum’s gone, and this, her home, will soon be no more.

I fired in my protest this morning, complaining of the way things have been handled, how we, my sister and I, have been disadvantaged, if not downright discriminated against. It’s too little avail except to my spleen, but that’s reason enough. What’s gone now won’t be seen again, not the lamp that mum promised me, or the little $20 brass Buddha I might have added to my collection, nor the Chinese banner I bought in Hong Kong years ago and gave to her one mother’s day.

I’ve been going through what’s left, their seconds if you like. There are a bunch of photo’s I’m trying to separate into meaningful piles. And a million recipe books and magazines. These evoke a strong sense of nostalgia. Many have been in use for nearly 40 years. They are scuffed, stained by meals long ago consumed in happier times. To sort through them is a poignant exercise. Most will end up in the rubbish now, but some I will take with me, less for the recipes inside them than for the memories they glow with. I guess I am sentimental after all.

Of the rest of the stuff remaining I will take little, if any. A friend is visiting to take a keepsake or two, and my sister threatens to load up on the pots outside. We are supposed to seek ‘permission’ to take anything, her children, but bugger that, or, as mum would say, in your eye.

My digital life

Replacement filing cabinet

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in the process of digitising my life, which seems very 2011. (Amid much speculation about what I’m doing with my life, digitising it hasn’t been one of the popular answers.) So, what is it?

Allegedly we live in the digital age (among a plethora of other ages). For some time now we’re meant to be heading towards a paperless office. Of course, as anyone who has actually worked in an office knows, there is more paper now than ever before. In fact you could argue that the coming of the digital age has only led to greater wastage of paper (largely due to the still plentiful luddites who insist on printing their emails and suchlike). But I digress…

In theory the masses of paper we consume are meant, someday, to be replaced by digital, ‘soft’ versions. In a sense the ebooks we read on a Kindle etc are an example of that. In theory an email in digital form replaces a letter. There’s never going to be digital toilet paper, but pretty well everything else is fair game.

Like most people I have amassed a mountain of paperwork over the years. I have a three drawer filing cabinet full to the brim, a couple of in-trays overflowing with stuff, as well as myriad documents stored randomly and fallen down the side of the desk/in the bottom drawer/pinned to the fridge, and so on. Now much of this debris is out of date and no longer required, but as I don’t have a professional filing system and someone dedicated to managing it then I simply accumulate without archiving anything. Bad enough as that may be, the real concern is when I actually need to find something. Now there’s a hair raising experience.

I’m meant to be tech savvy. I’m supposedly an IT professional, not to mention some sort of business whiz. If I can go around barking orders at businesses who pay me big dollars for the privilege (yeah, right) then surely I can get my own digital house in order? And so finally I figured I moved with the times and get digitised.

I run a Mac at home and some time ago invested in Devon Office Pro, which is meant to be absolutely primo when it comes to this kind of organisational software. I’d hardly used it, but after I upgraded it to the top version I got digitising.

First thing I did was actually transfer all the variety of soft files stored randomly on my Mac into the program, creating folders to store them, applying tags, and smart folders to automatically to shift this document there. I basically divided my life into sections: the business stuff; Reference, which included interesting stuff I’d read over the years, how to do this and that, etc; Personal Finance, which includes all my investment stuff, tax, etc; Personal, which is correspondence, family stuff, medical stuff, random memories and so on; and Recipes – the million and one recipes I’ve collected over the years. All done I suddenly had quite an extensive database of information searchable at my fingertips, all cross-referenced and governed by rules. Lovely stuff.

Next was actually converting hard copies to soft – the magic of digitisation. I have a flatbed scanner on my Canon Pixma, but it’s slow and inefficient to use. That was my excuse to grab something I’ve had my eye on for sometime: the Fujitsu Scansnap S1300, a very cute, very cool, very portable scanner. Shopping around I bought it on Amazon for about $200 less than I’d pay for it here and it was all good.

That now sits on the edge of my desk hungering to do more. Slip a piece of paper in it, press the blue button and, hey presto, a couple of moments later it pops up in Devon ready to be tagged and sorted.

Now I have a mountain of stuff to get through, and I’m not about to rush it, but I’ve already come across some interesting stuff.

I’ve been poking around in boxes sealed for yonks extracting stuff I want and turfing the stuff I don’t. It’s a little like archaeology, wherein every box represents a different strata of relics representing another era of my life. In one rich layer I found a bunch of correspondence dating back to the late nineties largely addressed to different women.

As you might imagine it was fascinating to stop and read through this. As I did I found many fond memories return, and one or two gentle regrets. Overall is was a pleasant experience as I recalled moments I had forgotten in the years since, or found fresh in my minds eye the desired object of my affections back in the day. I wondered where they were now, and once or twice with the benefit of wisdom wished I’d done differently. A couple of times I really had to scratch my head thinking, now which one was she?

Opening another box I hit a much earlier period, the late eighties. I hesitate to remember how I was then. I was young, I was pretty fit and, for a while, pretty good to look at. Nothing wrong there, but I was also pretty callow really, which is hard to avoid at that age. Though I figured I had all the answers I can smile now knowing that I knew fuck all. I fell in love for the first time back then, but in between times was typical of my age and sex: competitive, hungry, and full of beans. I found amid the scraps of paper a list I’d doodled at work. On it were the names of about 8 girls with little comments beside them – pros and cons if you like, for past and present. Present as they may have been in my life then, a good half of them eluded the grasp of my memory now.

I was very much a note-maker. I’d scribble passing thoughts or observations. I’d write exhortations to myself, affirmations of what I wanted, what I expected of life; and at times described the intimate details of that fine life I aspired to. I wrote letters too later on, to women I had loved but had passed by. They were full and complete letters poring out my thoughts and fears and hopes to girls now gone – mainly Berni – never intending to ever post them. It may seem vaguely weird reading that now, even a little pathetic, but I beg to differ. As I went on with my life, battling through the trials and tribulations of it, the letters I wrote to those women represented a kind of wise other self. I wrote the things I could never say; expressing myself like that was a way of getting these things out of me: they were a very conscious form of therapy.

Now the question I ask myself is: do I digitise these too? I’m a perfectionist in many ways, and that extends to striving towards completeness. These documents are a legitimate part of my life, they should be there if I intend to chart the true course of the journey I have taken. I don’t much care what people think, or what these things say of me: I can’t be apologetic for how I’ve lived, good, bad or indifferent, it’s the truth I have no interest in brushing aside. And regardless of the twists and turns, they are authentic signposts on the journey that has brought me to this very place today. Why would I ignore them?

It’s a question I seriously asked myself because there was an urge to put them aside, like love letters that should be kept, unread, in a camphor wood box tied in a ribbon. Does doing something as crassly modern as digitising these relics make them somehow cheaper, more common? There seemed something basically brutal and insensitive in the process: you put a heartfelt missive in the one end of a machine, and out the other pops your words converted into pixels. Should such personal stuff be filed and indexed? Don’t documents like this, scraps, memories, juvenile ruminations, unsent love letters, belong stuffed in a box rather than transformed into a digital images?

There feels some truth to that, and yet I decided to go ahead. This is my life. Boxes get lost, paper gets mistaken for trash and gets thrown out, and besides, here, properly filed, I can trace the trajectory of my feelings and thoughts through the years, the ebbs and flows of desire and maturity, the illusions I indulged myself in. Here it can make sense (as it rarely does otherwise).

I’ve got a very long way to go until I digitise everything. And though I may make a digital copies, I will keep the original handwritten version as well, for historical, sentimental reasons, rather than shredding them with the rest.