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January 20, 2012

Getting Things Done: Processing, part II

The culmination of my “git ‘er done” year is that I want to fully implement the  Getting Things Done system in my life.  So I’m going to document the stages I’m going through over the next few weeks (before 2011 really ends).  I previously posted about Collecting and Processing, part I.

So, I need advice.  I mentioned that I was humming along with my processing, until, BAM, I hit up against this big emotional barrier.  I think, nay, I know one or more of my blog readers can help me move forward and make a decision.

First, a little background.  Neal and I are, and have been, in the process of paring down our life.  Not that we had a huge life to begin with, but if I haven’t mentioned it before, we want a tiny life.  A tiny life that will fit in a tiny, 320-square-foot home.  One of the reasons for moving in with my parents for awhile was to work on this paring-down process, since I still had a sizable chunk of stuff from my past life housed here.  So I’ve been doing that.  And mostly it’s been fun.  Going through my old high school/junior high stuff is pretty entertaining.  But last week I came across a big box of stuff from my two-year baseball mission, AKA the lost years, 1998-2000.  The summation of the lost years is that after my freshman year of college I had to quit school for two years, was mostly bed-ridden, started therapy, learned to hate doctors (except psychologists, I like most of those), listened to a lot of sports talk radio, watched a lot of baseball, and wrote.

All that writing is my problem at the moment.  See, I kept it all, every bit.  Letters to and from me.  Journal entries.  Two novels I started.  A ridiculous number of poems.  And HOLY HANNAH, it’s depressing stuff.  I was facing my own mortality at 18 years old, and the combination of adolescent angst and clinical depression and potential death are just overwhelming.  It’s been 12, 13 years and it’s still absolutely too painful for me to read any of it.  “Across the Catwalk” and “Untitled,” which I only wrote after I knew things were getting better, are just about the only things I can tolerate reading from that time in my life.  In my efforts to go through stuff, decide what to keep and scan, what to toss, I tried to start by reading some of the letters other people wrote to me.  I thought that would be easier, but man, I couldn’t get through more than one or two.  Even though I’m not still that horribly ill (mentally, physically, emotionally) teenager, I can’t help but feel all that pain still resting there.  And when I read the letters people sent to me, which seemed safer than reading my own writing, I can feel them grappling with that pain and not knowing what to say to me or about me.

It’s such an important part of my life.  Absolutely defining.  I remade myself under the tutelage of so much suffering, both external and self-inflicted.  I thought someday I would want to look back on it all, like maybe there were still lessons for me there.  But I’m beginning to doubt that day will ever come.  Maybe living through it once, and still coping with chronic issues that connect me to it, is enough.

I’ve pictured gathering it all and setting the box on fire.  I love fire (in a slightly pyro-type of way) and I love the symbolism of letting it all go.  But then I worry that I would regret that, for me and for my daughter.  For me, because I don’t want to pretend it never happened and I don’t want to ignore something that could teach me more of what I need to know.  (After all, Joseph Smith once said, “Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.”) And for Addison, because perhaps she could avoid some of the mistakes I made during those years or at least feel less alone when she makes them.  Maybe I should just seal that box up, mark it carefully, and tuck it away for her to find some day.  She’ll learn things about my past from that box that I will probably never be able to tell her.

Neal thinks I should scan them without reading them and then get rid of the physical items.  But I’m not sure that would be less painful.  I would still catch glimpses of the words, and like I said, it just feels like that ache is still present.  Should I do something that has the potential to keep me in my depressed, too-contemplative mode for a couple weeks more?  (By the way, this all came to head on that same Tuesday.  I thought getting things done (!) would help me feel productive and stave off the depression, but unluckily this was the box I came upon — since there was no Box 8.  :))

So, here’s where your advice comes in.  Burn it?  Seal it?  Push myself to go through it?  What would you do, or what have you done in your life?



  1. I say seal it.

    Comment by Stephanie — January 20, 2012 @ 12:22 am

  2. I just went through a box myself. I threw away a ton of horrible letters from the worst boyfriend in the world and it was very cathartic, but I kept letters of encouragement from a hard time in my life and some light notes from family members. I imagine finding a box from my mother’s past. If I would be interested to find whatever I am contemplating throwing away if it were hers, I keep it. If you don’t want to go through it, get someone else who you trust to do so. Or, if you have room, seal and keep it all. That’s my two cents, anyway.

    Comment by Rachel — January 20, 2012 @ 1:28 am

  3. My first reaction, and my final response, is to get rid of it. I talked it through with Ryan, and he agrees. This is weighing you down, and I think the words you wrote were more helpful to you going through that time than they are to you now, otherwise you would feel differently and want to and enjoy (at least on some level) going through the box. But that is not the reaction you are having. I understand the fear of loss that you’re grappling with. In the past year, I have made myself part with lots of material things. The hardest stuff to part with were all the printed articles that I kept from grad school. Reading assignments from my classes that I loved and marked up, underlined, and commented on in the margins. I realized I struggled with getting rid of these because that was such a defining, wonderful, expanding time of my life. I felt at the top of my intellectual game then. I kept thinking, if I teach a class someday or do research on this someday, I want to go back to my copy of the article because I made all these great connections that I wrote in the margins. I was worried that by giving them up, I would never again be able to make some of those great intellectual connections; I would lose them forever. But I realized they were just taking up space that was valuable to me for other reasons, and I had never once made time to go back and re-read them yet. I had to trust that if I ever did need or want to go back to those articles, that I could re-read them and still find meaning and make connections from them, from whatever it is I have to work with and bring to the table at that time. And all the connections I made in the past that were recorded in those margins are still a part of me somewhere, and I trust that if I ever need to remember something specific that I learned or thought of from that time, the Lord will bless me to do so. I feel I can say this because I have great respect for remembering—I keep a daily journal and THOSE I do not throw away. So maybe there are a few key documents from the box, that if you specifically remember, you could send Neal or someone else to rifle through to find for you to preserve those particular documents. But if you can’t remember something specific that you want to save from the box, that may be a sign you have already taken what you need from that box, mentally and emotionally. Also, I have another point of view on Addison’s perspective. It could be very disturbing for her, even as an adult, to deal with the documents in that box. If you can’t do it yet, at what age will she have the strength and maturity to come to terms with the difficulties you faced in such an intense way? Especially since they are not her trials to bear. If she needs to learn specifically what you learned from that experience, I think having you as a mother, and distilling your knowledge and perspective in more interactive ways, such as conversation (which will allow you to filter what information she’s ready for at certain ages and stages based on her responses), will be enough. And if it is not, God will give her the requisite life experiences she needs.

    Ultimately, I understand if you choose to keep the box, although if you do, you may want to pre-determine a point at which you will reevaluate your decision, when you’ve had more time to let your emotions settle and clear: a week, a month, a year, a decade, really there is no rush to decide if it is in a safe place. Setting a time to decide might be easier than actually deciding now. It sounds like you’re feeling some time pressure to make a decision, and time pressure often doesn’t help. And because I really don’t know what or how much of you is in that box, I will never judge you if you keep it. But I want you to know that if you want to get rid of the box, and it sounds like at least part of you does, I trust you and the Lord to be able to meet whatever lies in the future without the contents of this box. Also, I still have some sorting to do, but I have found a great deal of peace in living in a home that is not so full and the contents of which almost all directly contribute to the life I want to be living now.

    And after all of this, I must confess, I learned a lot of things about you from the story and poem you posted from this period in your life. So part of me is so curious and understands the potential value of the contents—I’m not saying getting rid of it would be easy or is necessarily the thing to do. But with that said, I think our friendship can deepen and grow, and perhaps you will grow in unexpected ways, as you actively choose how to represent that time of your life in real time, rather than relying on your past interpretations. Another idea if you get rid of it all is to do a project (like the pregnancy projects in that one pregnancy book I’m pretty sure you read) that helps you come to terms or represent that period in a more currently appropriate way. Or maybe you could let Neal read a few things and paint a picture that could represent that experience or how you came out of it. If Ryan had artistic skill like Neal I’d be begging for all sorts of custom art work!

    Sorry if this is not what you want to hear or is too much at once. You know I love you no matter what.

    Comment by v. blanchard — January 20, 2012 @ 1:54 am

  4. I was going to say some of what v. blanchard said:
    As for you, the Holy Spirit can bring all things to your remembrance. As for Addison, her own communion with God can help her contemplate the darkest abyss.

    If you torch it, you won’t be torching your salvation (this is the sort of thing I have to remind myself). The box is a tool for future learning: is it worth the space, time, and mental energy to keep it? If you tossed it, would you waste mental energy wondering if you should have kept it?

    Only you can decide (and you don’t have to decide right now, if you set a specific re-eval date).

    Comment by Alysa — January 20, 2012 @ 2:28 am

  5. Perhaps Neal or someone else you trust could scan everything in for you so that you have it if/when you (or Addison) is ready to look through it. That way, you wouldn’t have to deal with it immediately and it would be safe for when you do – plus, you could still have your bonfire and let things go 😉 I’m interested to hear more about your baseball mission though (the happy, good stuff of course!) – I didn’t realize you were such a fan!

    Comment by Kristin — January 20, 2012 @ 2:37 am

  6. I agree with Kristin, have someone else scan it for you. I know someone who could do it for you, and not read a word of it. Only scan it, burn it to a CD and return the box for destruction and the CD for safe keeping.

    Comment by enelo — January 20, 2012 @ 3:24 am

  7. I agree with Kristin. I think burning it with no backups has the potential to haunt you one day. This seems like a nice solution.

    Comment by Jen — January 20, 2012 @ 3:46 am

  8. The only thing in my life I can compare this to is the binder full of letters that I have from an ex-boyfriend, so I recognize that we’re talking paltry apples and massive oranges here, but my feelings lean towards the “seal it up and save it for later” approach. Part of my feeling comes from a fireside I attended a few months back where Claudia Bushman talked about personal history, how it’s of vital importance to record your own story. And those years, those words you wrote so tearfully and painfully, are clearly HUGE in The Book of Lindsay. Even if that book isn’t one you want to read right now or ever, even if it’s a book you have no interest in compiling and never get around to in your life, it’s a meaningful book and it deserves to last. So I say give it a chance to last.

    That said: if it is spiritually, mentally, emotionally important for you to destroy those pages and mementos, then TOTALLY do it. Totally. You owe more to yourself right now than you do to your descendants, in my opinion. You have more responsibility toward your own well-being in January of 2012 than toward the version of yourself that was living and breathing and writing in 1998-2000.

    So, yeah, I guess my advice would be to do a little soul-searching, contemplative thinking, and praying to see if you feel a pull toward the bonfire idea (or the idea of setting things afloat in a body of water, which is a method I’ve found useful =), and if you do, then make it the coolest and most personally rich ceremony you can muster. But if you don’t feel that pull, then put some duct tape on the box(es) and ask a trustworthy friend or family member to store it for you for the foreseeable future.

    Good luck. =)

    Comment by Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks — January 20, 2012 @ 4:25 am

  9. I think it’s brave that you wrote about it at all. I was an avid writer for a long time, when everything in my life seemed really great or at least tolerable (and I have always had to either really clear my head or be numb to everything in order to sleep well–a relative term–so I wrote just before bedtime). Unfortunately, I just can’t get myself to write about things anymore….because the pain is too strong if I let it surface, and it can’t be shared–or at least, not yet, not really. And I am one of those people that if I’m going to write it down, it’s going to be “public” eventually (I just have that in the back of my mind, because I know I could never, as much as I like fire as well–burn those things. It would literally feel like burning pieces of myself, and I feel enough of that has already been lost by going through the experience, as it were). I save all of my journals, poems, records, awards, friends notes, boyfriend momentos, etc–if not only for the reason that I want my children to know me. The me I used to be. Whether good or bad, happy or sad. I want them to see how sometimes I was really strong, and other times, I was not (probably similar to the ups and downs they will experience). I want them to see that what really keeps me going, in the end, is my faith in the Savior, if nothing else, and my love for certain people. I have years of my life that have also been blacked out. I only remember certain pieces sometimes because I have done a really good job of dismissing them from my life forever. I also don’t want to remember. But at the same time, I do. I like to remember how I have escaped those times. I NEED to remember how I came through. The other thing is, I know that much of the things I have experienced and not written, my mother has imprinted in her memory. And for some reason, that brings me comfort–because I know someday I am going to need those things to resurface….if not only to completely heal. I also sometimes think that it would be good for Devin to know the whole me–when he’s ready. Because I don’t think that will happen for quite a long time.

    I guess, I cannot really say what you should do with those moments. I like the idea of putting it away a little longer, if you aren’t sure. You just need to be confident in the decision you make. You may need more healing, you may need more moving on/escaping, you may need to eventually share, you may need to impart wisdom…..I am just not sure and certainly don’t suggest that I am even a small fraction acquainted with your story well enough to offer real advice. And I know I am not really helping in offering this long list of the what-if’s because it only gives more to ponder. But I do know that it isn’t good to have regrets, so just really be sure. I also really like the idea of making it a discussion with the Lord. He knows best. And perhaps Neal (or anyone close enough to you to truly, deeply understand) will have more solid advice to give. If it were me, I don’t think I could get rid of it just yet, but you are not me. I would have someone I trust hide it away from me so I could basically pretend it didn’t exist, but if it were at some point needed (you know, because I tend to peel layers of pain off intermittently when I feel really strong or really weak and coerced), have it be resurrected. I don’t, however, suggest that I have the answers, nor do I promote the idea that I ever handle things well or perfectly. I will continually keep you in my thoughts and prayers and hope that this decision comes as swiftly as is needful. We all have much to learn, and so, may God lead and direct your path.

    Comment by Meghan — January 21, 2012 @ 7:54 am

  10. I miss you and your calming presence. (This comment is completely unhelpful re: your original post, but it is full of love if that’s any consolation).

    Comment by Krisanne — January 22, 2012 @ 5:09 pm

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