“Stagger Lee was born in February of 1996. After a little over a year at Vanderbilt University, he moved to Washington DC and signed on as tech support for a major non-profit. Seven years later, he moved with his fiancee to California, where he has lived and worked ever since.”
Seem like I’m leaving out a lot? Probably. But let’s be honest: for most people in my life, that’s my story. Anything before I joined a certain listserv during that winter of ’96 only exists in my own tales and imagination, because nobody was there to see it and there’s precious little physical proof any of it happened – apart from a ring or two and perhaps an old T-shirt or six. And if you’re in California, it goes more like:
“Stagger Lee was born in April 2001. His existence did not solidify until July 2004, when he moved to Silicon Valley. He has since bopped around several jobs, leaving a trail of incoherent ramblings about Vanderbilt athletics, tales from his first job, and something about an “EUS” that may or may not have to do with Scottish soccer.”
Four years ago, I went home and cleaned out the closet. The result was something of a temporal fugue, where for a span of about three hours, I was back in high school. A little over a year later, I was sent a link to a station of streaming Irish music, which catapulted me back in time seven years in a cloud of snow and pipe smoke. And last week, I opened boxes that carried me from 1985 to 1997 and back, providing me with the most unexpected gift of the year: a treasure-trove of real-time documentation of what I was thinking, what I was obsessing over, how I was living my life – in short, almost all the data points needed to really see what’s changed in the last twenty years…and what hasn’t.
There are things in my past that were too painful to contemplate, and to get them out of the way, I shut off the past. It didn’t keep the actual problems from leaking through, but it did succeed in cutting off large swathes of who I used to be – things that are, or should be, a very big part of who I am today. When they leaked through, it usually only served to trigger the wrong reaction. Memory and regret go together like Jack and Coke, and that’s not an idly chosen comparison.
The triumph of 2009 is that a lot of that past broke through in a big way this year, for a number of reasons, and for the most part not in a bad way. Call it the Lion King moment, if you like – “remember who you are.” I did. Those things that happened in 1989, or 1994, or 2000 are not things that happened to previous regenerations, played by different people in a different era – they happened to me, they made me what I am, and I still have a lot of those things going for me.
In 2010, I’m not going to be playing defense against my own past anymore. Which should free up a lot of time and energy for other things.