Cleaning up an attic where I store bits and pieces of my life, a place I haven't rummaged through in many years, I came across a big scrapbook, the size of a desk, full of my newspaper clippings from years ago.
Taking a moment to sift through its pages, I was struck by how many articles with my byline I had no memory of writing. A feature here on how to search your family tree, a lifestyle piece on how fishermen can re-use ripped stockings. Some of them I did remember writing, a profile on Gold Star Mothers. A look at women tagged with men's names in a piece called "A Girl Named Bruce." Memorable because I can still even now recall talking to the people who gave me their stories.
© Eileen Douglas
And this trip to the attic got me thinking even more deeply. In my office I keep a file, which might as well be buried in an attic, of stories I never got to do. One file is crammed with a dozen ideas that had gotten the green light from the executive producer of a television show where I worked as a correspondent, one week before the show was cancelled. Maybe, I think, someday I will still get to do them. Another box is filled with ideas for documentaries and book proposals – a heart-wrenching look at life in a gulag, a lighthearted trip across the country on Route 66 – which were begun, but hit a roadblock, and so far to date, remain in the "maybe one day" pile.
Among the other things I came across while rummaging in the attic were trinkets and other goodies that a newsroom where I once had been a part of the A-team of anchor/reporters used to give the staff. A coffee mug, a windbreaker/rain slicker, a Polartec jacket, all emblazoned with the radio station call letters. I had left, of my own decision, when certain changes were made I felt I'd rather not work or live with, and had stashed the goodies away and looked to forget about it all. Finding them again, I thought, enough time has passed. Might as well "identify" again with a place that once meant something special to me.
I washed the mug and put it away in a cupboard where I would use it again. I hung the rain slicker on my office door rack. I was all set to reinstate the Polartec jacket, when I noticed, just below the embroidered station logo on the back, that some mouse or squirrel or other well-toothed creature had eaten a hole smack dab in the middle while nesting in it for a winter. Oh, well. Perhaps, that, too, is a message.
There are some stories you have done that you don't even remember.
There are some stories you hope to do that you may never get to.
And there are some places you once worked from whence you really had best just move on.
Just as we have an attic to which we can consign the physical things we stuff "up there" – things that we still somehow want to hold on to, but nevertheless need to have out of sight – I'm thinking we all also have a metaphorical attic, a place in our heads where the days of our life, and the memories of our career are held, and fade, and if we revisit and pull them out again, we see with fresh eyes the long sweep of the work we have done, and we see that it was done well at that. At times it is good to look back.
But, at times, looking back also reminds us how the real frontier is the future. It reminds me as a journalist, as I close the scrapbook on the articles I wrote long ago, articles of which I see I am proud, that there's always a new day. Life is so full. There are always so many, many stories to tell. Time to visit the attic, yes. But, also, time to move on and see what stories come next.
But you know, I think I could still wear that rain slicker.