Richard Holmes always gave us ice cream. Whenever my siblings and I would walk down the road to say hello, the first thing he’d do would be to tell us there’s “ice cream in the back.” Although he was just a neighbor who lived down the road, I’m pretty sure he never actually ate any of the ice cream he bought for us. It was just something he did for our benefit.
Surrounded by corn in a small farmhouse about a half-mile off the road, we’d sit in his front living room and gaze out the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the front yard. He’d tell us stories about the war, growing up during the Great Depression, and how he had saved up enough money to buy his first, and only, house in full. My favorites were the ones where he’d talk about his life around the age of 25. He sounded like the type of guy you wished you had as a friend. Adventurous, smart and a good soul.
However, for all his stories, Mr. Holmes didn’t have many tangible items to go along with them. I don’t blame him for not having them — he had grown up without them after all — but hearing his stories just made it more intoxicating to imagine what he was like before disease and years of rigorous work had taken him off a tractor and put a cane in his hand. Aside from a few stoic photographs from his time in the army, the young Richard was left to my imagination.
When I first began designing, I kept a copy of everything I made. This was partly out of necessity — never sure if I could recreate any given design; it was safer just to duplicate a project folder. Eventually this habit began to permeate into other areas of my life, most notably when it came to keeping a journal.
I started with a simple notebook from the dollar store and a pen I didn’t loath the way ink flowed out. My thoughts weren’t profound; sometimes they had less substance than a tweet, but I continued to write day after day. Not only was I experiencing growth in areas of my life, but I also became acutely aware of how much I had grown over time. Reading back through the emotions of nervousness as I was entering college are almost laughable now that I’m almost through. Laughable in a, don’t-I-know-myself kind of way.
Today, journaling is integral to my life. It is a time for me to step back into my own little world and discuss things with myself. It sounds silly, but the stress that can melt away simply by writing out your thoughts is incredibly rewarding.
I feel that journaling is even more important for me now than when I started. As we’ve seen the meteoric rise of social sharing, I think we lose the incentive to go back into our memories and write down the events from our own point of view. We compensate with pictures and videos and assume those will be enough. There’s nothing bad about browsing through our Facebook albums to relive a memory, but in every situation I’ve wanted to go relive an event it’s the journal entry I wrote for that day which evokes more emotion and sentimental feelings than any other media.
Mr. Holmes passed away before I finished my freshmen year of college. It was one of the saddest days I’ve ever experienced, and when we removed his beaten-up maroon reclining chair it felt like all the happiness had dried up from the world.
When I got back to college later that day, I went through some of my old entries looking for bits and pieces to remember, and they were there. The time he taught me how to drive stick-shift. The time he told us about the small litter of puppies they had on his base. The time he got his first job and met his wife. They were all there. The stories live on, written with the enthusiasm of a boy who had just been told a most wonderful adventure.
I often think about how my grandchildren will one day be able to go back through years of data my life has generated online and off. High definition videos, years of blog posts, with tweets and Facebook to fill in the gaps. Perhaps they won’t care, but I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to actually see Mr. Holmes when he was a young man. Maybe the fact that the future generation will be able to see us as young people will help remind them that everyone was at one point in time.
But even if Mr. Holmes had all those pictures and videos, I don’t think it would have changed how I wrote about him. It would have been a luxury, but not a necessity to truly understanding the type of man he was.
It’s for this reason I encourage you to start writing today. Get a 3-subject notebook, open a text file, date the top and start writing. If you’re going to invest in documenting your memories, you owe it to yourself try doing it in your own words. Because no matter how many gigabytes of data you produce over your lifetime, none of it will ever be able to capture you better than you. If not for your benefit, then maybe for someone else’s. I often look forward to the day when I can hand my son an edited version of my years as a teen. See, kid? I went through this stuff too. In fact, some of these entries were written specifically with you in mind. Nobody’s perfect, but what’s important is to capture the story that accompanies imperfection — that’s the one you’ll love rereading the most.
Mr. Holmes never spoke of a journal, but I secretly hoped I might find something as we cleaned out his house for the last time. I never came across such a memoir, but I take solace in knowing that I’ve helped preserve at least a few of his stories; if only to aid me as I retell them to my own children. And, I’m sure, every now and again they’ll get a little ice cream with story time.
—Wednesday, 30 October 2013