Talking in my sleep

Trolling through old journals when I was at home with a sinus infection yesterday, I came across this little curio.  (Apparently, sometimes in my sleep, I say interesting things.)

Talking in my sleep [again.]  Chris told me that this is what I said last night:

“I like it

when the music

goes

DOWN

LOW

and

DEEP.

If it’s a sound

I’ve never heard before….

I

like

that.”

The intriguing thing about this to me is that this is a pretty good description of the music, especially the electronic music, that I like.  I like intense, psychedelic trance and sample-intensive or  bass-heavy tracks. I have always collected media, especially books, CD’s, live concert tapes, and vinyl albums.  I have an especially large collection of what I might describe as Net Label audio and found sounds.  When Black Lodge Video first opened here in midtown Memphis, I often rented unusual fare, and when I found soundtrack dialogue, music, or atmospheric material that I thought might sound cool sampled into music, I ripped it to cassette, so I have somewhere a fair-sized collection of stuff like that too.  Even as a child, I did stuff like that.  One of my earliest audio projects as a kid involved making audio cassette recordings of  one of HBO’s first original programs.  These shows were a series of very atmospheric, half hour-long renditions of Raymond Chandler’s early 20th century detective stories, featuring the private investigator, Sam Spade.  I faithfully recorded every episode but made the mistake of leaving the tapes in my parents’ basement while I was at college.  My mother, bless her heart, threw them away in one of her anti-stuff purges.  Periodically, I have looked for that series online, with thoughts of replacing those lost tapes, though buying them would only be step one, with re-recording all of those audio tapes a major step two, and I do have other projects.  Of course, the other side of the coin here is that this occurred a long time ago.  Why do I even remember this event at all?  I made those recordings years before I came to understand the reason to buy the highest quality recording medium you can afford, so I most likely recorded those shows on cheap cassettes that would have disintegrated or melted long before now in the less than archive-quality purgatory in which most of my remaining cassettes now live.  At the same time, if I still had those cassettes, I could have used them as sample fodder on my radio show or as fill when I was still doing the DJ thing occasionally.

Nonetheless, the pattern of sampling and archiving is one I began very early in my life.

Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, given that my mother was a librarian, and my father was a teacher for almost 40 years.   My father has always been quite rigorous in his archiving tendencies.  He keeps journals (as I do) and freely admits having kept a copy of just about everything he has written as well as copious notes on anything he’s read that relates to any of his several research subjects.  From my dad, I learned to archive my work, to keep journals, and to take notes on (and in) books, magazines, articles, etc. that touch on my subjects of interest.  My mother’s influences in this area are more subtle but still there.  She is ardently (and increasingly) anti-stuff, where I have always been a collector.  The collector impulse I got from my father, but my mother’s work as a librarian has meant that I spent a significant part of my younger years in and around libraries, and because both of my parents worked for the same academically rigorous and resource-rich private school, I had early access to world-class libraries with college-level resources.  As a child, I spent any afternoons not otherwise engaged in after school activities hanging out in the library where my mother worked.  As time went on and I outgrew the kids collection, I graduated to the teacher’s reading room where the grown up fiction was kept.  From my mother, I learned the importance  of reading, for pleasure as well as for a purpose.  Spending so much time in libraries helped me see the utility of catalogs and lists to create order.  By extension, keeping clippings and notes on an array of subjects has helped me to impose a kind of order on my otherwise chaotic universe of interests.

While on the subject of the personal archives to impose order, I just read an excellent eight-part series of reflections by London-based evolutionary biologist and writer Olivia Judson on the New York Times blog .  Called “The Task,” the series was an extended meditation on the power of stuff and on our complicated relationships with objects, mementos, and emotional debris accumulated over a lifetime. Judson talks a lot about the emotional attachments she uncovered after her father died, when she and her brother had to dispose of forty-five years of her parents’ accumulated stuff.  The author details some of the conflicting emotions that came to the surface, while at the same time conveying to us what interesting folks her parents were.   Apparently, her dad worked for Time Magazine in 1960’s, and he kept everything he ever wrote, as well as file cabinets full of notes and clippings.  And books.  And stuff.  Lots of other stuff.  At the time of his death — he was the surviving parent — his house brimmed with mementos, memories, and emotional landmines for her and her brother.  I read the entire series and can say that it is well worth it and is a surprisingly quick read at that for what it is.  I was most struck by Judson’s last few paragraphs of part one, though, and found these words most germane to my thoughts on the power of stuff.  In closing, I’d like to offer this quote from Olivia Judson’s “The Task” because it encapsulates a lot of my conflicted relationship with  stuff, both having it and collecting it.:

“…To anyone who suggested that maybe he did not need all the stuff, my father would invoke the great psychologist William James, who wrote that the loss of possessions gives ‘a sense of the shrinkage of our personality, a partial conversion of ourselves to nothingness.’

“I never agreed with the idea that personality is defined by objects; I would rather say that objects are defined by personality. Yet when someone is dead, and their belongings are all that is left, dispersing those belongings feels like an erasing of their physical presence on the earth.

“Moreover, although my father didn’t mean it this way, there is a sense in which James was right. An old T-shirt waves at you and says, ‘Remember when we went to Hawaii together?’; a plastic cup reminds you of a party you went to one hot summer day. A dried corsage — where was the dance? who was the date? — reminds you of the girl you were, who thought a corsage worth saving. In other words, objects are keys to remembering what happened and who you were, and their loss can make the memories inaccessible. So — for me at least — this task also brings with it a fear that in throwing things away, I am also throwing away access to parts of my mind.”

To a certain extent, Judson speaks to my fear too.  On some level, I think my objects (and the collections of which they are a part) are like place holders for the memories and experiences they represent.  I wonder if I’m afraid that parting with my things, whether journals, or books, will erase the memories or experiences they represent.  Should I continue to buy (or collect)  books, music, etc.?  Am I afraid that without such reminders, I won’t remember the present five, ten, or even thirty years hence?  On what level do I use objects to hold space for memories I’ve made and experiences or connections I’ve had, and on what levels do the memories impart relevance unto the objects?  Does collecting these things help me to form or hold on to my memories?  Do these objects enhance connection or insulate me from it?  Which objects enhance and extend my life and which detract from it?  Does having these books, journals, magazines, and media in general offer enough value to my life that it is worth it to have them around, or do they mostly provide another excuse for why I am so rooted in my life in Memphis?  After all, I can’t load all of this stuff in a truck and go on the archetypal Great American road trip across the country, or can I?  And would I even be able to enjoy such a trip if I hauled all of my stuff with me?

All are good questions, really, but there are no easy answers here.

The best I can hope for, I think, is that wrestling with these issues will help me live in the present, write honestly, and continue to engage in my life while not simply archiving or recording it.

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. March 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Jim,
    A fascinating post, in lots of ways. I suffer from the same sort of “collecting-itis” that you do (or vice versa?), and every so often I run out of room in which to keep my “stuff.” So, I suck it up and begin a semi-ruthless purge. The most recent, I suppose, was when I cleaned out “my room” at school as I prepared for retirement. Strangely enough, that was fairly easy, since I was leaving my course notes to my successors, and books I didn’t want to take home remained on the shelves in the room until people stopped by to take them for free by my invitation. It was really painless, honestly!
    Dad

  2. Faith Lamplugh said,

    March 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Jim,
    This was really thoughful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    Mom


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: