A Million Little Pieces

Although I haven’t read James Frey’s book, I am aware that the “million little pieces” of his title have to do with the fragmentation or splintering of his life. In my case, what is fragmented is the record of my life.

As I was writing in my (paper) diary the other morning, it struck me how little is really recorded there. The day-to-day details of my life are more often found in my emails, newsgroup posts, blog entries, Web pages, and the like. To add to the fragmentation, I recently joined Twitter, mostly just to see what it’s all about. If this keeps up, before you know it I’ll have a Facebook page, too!

If I were to die today, my survivors would find a couple of file cabinets full of mostly outdated paper, a dozen or so file boxes of old letters, and many years’ worth of Day-Timers (in which I keep my diary), but unless they looked at my hard drive, they would have very few documents from my current life.

In a way this is a good thing: while there would be plenty of other stuff to dig through (I inherited my parents’ packrat tendencies, not to mention their accumulations of paper), my heirs would not be faced with the quantity of memorabilia I inherited from my parents. All the documents I have created since 1992 can still fit quite comfortably on a relatively small and portable removable drive. And they would already be reasonably well organized.

But would they provide the same sense of discovery, excitement, and satisfaction I have derived from reading letters and diaries written, some of them nearly a century ago, by my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, in their own (sometimes indecipherable) handwriting? Somehow I doubt it.

Worse still, would anyone care? Would anyone really wade through the overwhelming volume of material to find the few documents that really matter? One of my “customers” at my monthly Word Q&A sessions at our public library wanted to learn how to set up a folder of documents for her son to find easily in such an event. We created a Word folder for these documents and put a shortcut to it on her desktop labeled “ATTN: RICHARD,” in hopes that her son would spot it if, in his grief, he fired up her computer (presumably she will alert him to this while she’s still this side of the grass).

Still, this reflection reinforces my sense of the need to organize my own memoirs (by writing a coherent autobiography) before I kick the bucket. Certainly I have a wealth of source material!

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