Tuesday, 21 April 2015
I made this box recently. Part of the instructions were to use tissue paper as a base material between cardboard and the papier mache covering. Because my mother has just moved I had recently acquired all the letters I have ever sent her, which she had kept as she does as self appointed keeper of stories. These letters seemed like the idea material - being that wonderful tissue thin airmail paper. And it would mean I was doing something useful with these letters.
The first bag I had dared to open was full of letters from me as a twenty year old heading to New Zealand - on the one way ticket I had secured with a guarantee from a NZ friend. I decided I owed it to my mother to read these letters she'd kept for so long before sealing them away.
Agony. I hadn't realised how successfully I'd managed to edit out the naive ignorance of my twenty year old self: the vague pronouncements on what I had seen or experienced read as a litany of almost meaningless events to my parents (and that's not considering the appalling handwriting on such thin paper the loops and crosses cutting through to each side making the act of reading ridiculously hard work). The idealised aspirations for what I was going to do and how it was all going to fall into place were astonishing to read. I do remember being far more confident than I am now, but honestly, really? had I ever been that person?
I have diaries from the time, but there is a substantial difference in tone between those and the addresses to my parents. There are suggestions on books for Mum to read that I can't believe ever considered her interests and tastes. It was as if I had the aspiration for improvement people can show for their children but was pushing it on my parents, as if our roles were reversed. And I had wiped it from my memory, replacing it with the naive enthusiasm I read in my diaries. Still cringeingly ignorant, but at least I wasn't imposing myself upon anyone. (Although amongst these letters was one from my mother telling me how much she enjoyed reading mine - some consolation at least)
I suppose it is good to have this other perspective of myself. A reality check of who I am, as long I don't spiral into a mire of self criticism. I have to embrace her because she is part of what made me who I am now. It's also about accepting the truth of my younger self and her relationship with my parents - expectant and demanding (urg), a rather pompous supposition that I know best, or more...
In the end the box only took five or six letters before it was covered. I used the envvelopes and stamps and some maps from the time for the papier mache, so it has become a box of my younger self. I have no idea what I'll put in it. It was an experiment which has become an odd memorial. I still have four or five bags of them. I know I ought to read them but really I just want more boxes to cover with them and then hide them, like the layers of skin and callouses that have covered the original experiences... But until I find a use for the first box I can't bring myself to make more and be surrounded by these empty totems to the past self.
This all reminds me of a cartoon I once saw of a youngster with backpack etc, climbing a mountain, encountering a besuited man of the same age and appearance. The caption read: Peter went to Nepal to find himself.
Who we find is not always who we expect...