And I mean that word quite literally, as in: actively not looking at something. In this case–that box of notebooks and papers I just pulled out of the attic.
OK, I did peek–very quickly, though. The box contained essays I had written and notebooks I had filled as an undergraduate, along with a few scattered papers from a graduate program I was in back in the late 1980s. Perhaps it would have made for an interesting couple of hours to read through those essays dating back to my late teens and early twenties….
Then again: it was a lot easier just to chuck everything into recycling.
Well, almost everything. I found a 1980 copy of Pravda (I studied Russian in high school) that I figured I would hold onto until morning to show the kids. And there were a few things that I recognized as my wife’s purview, which I set aside for her. Oh: and two old photo albums. And maybe one or two other things too. But that’s it.
Sounds like I’m hedging on this whole “overlook” thing, I know (“Just this ashtray. And this paddle game…that’s all I need.”) But trust me: tonight was a major improvement.
In fact, I can remember when I loaded this old box of notebooks into the attic not too long ago, after clearing out some dusty milk crates that were tucked down underneath my work desk. At the time, it seemed entirely appropriate to hold onto these “early writings” for some version of posterity. Now, it’s just more paper that I’m holding onto for no real reason.
So off it went–to be recycled into blank pages for someone else to fill.
I pulled a few more boxes of stuff out of the attic tonight as well–and it was the same story: baby clothes that, a few years back, seemed too precious to discard are now in a pile by the top of the stairs, destined to head out the door and off to charity tomorrow morning. Yes, I picked up one or two tiny shirts so that my wife and I could coo in unison–but that was the extent of our review. No sorting of outfits into complex, multiple piles. No long reminiscing over baby hats and tiny overalls.
A few years ago it would have felt like I was devaluing the past if I were to discard these things without much more than a second thought.
Today, it was clear to me that these material artifacts and the moments that they stand in for are two very different things.
I can discard the one, while still honoring the other.