Death of a columnist

Worm memories

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Now more than ever, I’ve been thinking about legacies: how they are created and how they survive. I’ve been thinking about this in part because we are living through extraordinary times, and there’s a pressing need to document what we can. Also, I’ve been reading too much about wills in some of my classes. All of this feels sort of like the closing of a chapter on normal life, except the chapter ends in a cliff-hanger and the rest is, as Natasha Bedingfield would say, still unwritten.

I used to think about what kind of legacy I’ll leave behind. Now, I wonder whether I’ll leave one at all. Like many of you, I’m still trying to figure out how to maintain a record of myself in a world where I can’t be seen or heard. It seems to me like there are two options ahead of us. The first is to adapt to our altered lifestyle with the help of new technologies and a bit of human ingenuity. Strengthen your online presence, focus those creative energies into building a new app or filming a performance piece or starting that baking Instagram you’ve always wanted to start. Publicize yourself relentlessly on whatever platform you can. “Publicize, publicize, publicize!” like Cassio might say. That’s how you build your reputation, reputation, reputation. 

Don’t get me wrong — I love these go-getters for finding their outlet, and for keeping me entertained with funny videos on Facebook. I’m just hesitant to join in on the media blitz myself. I never liked being the center of attention in a crowded room, let alone in front of an infinite and anonymous body of people. And that, I guess, leaves me with the second option. 

The second option is to live quietly and disappear, at least for the next four or five months. 

Or so it seemed, at first. Can this really be the end? I turned over these thoughts again and again. Am I condemned to be forgotten because I am no longer seen? Out of sight, out of mind? I may not have my image plastered on every household television, but there has to be more to me than just the echoes of a fading ghost. There has to be something tangible, little traces of myself scattered in the house and in the yard. A single footprint, maybe, to prove my existence. 

As I was sitting around in my house, dwelling on thoughts of reputation and remembrance, I decided to go looking for these traces of myself. In the end, I found one in the oddest place: in my old bookshelf, the same flowery purple one I’ve had since I was a child, written into the margins of my favorite paperbacks. There was an arrow pointed to an underscored line, and scrawled next to it were the words, “This is how I will write some day.” 

I realized then that I have flung myself across every wall and every ceiling of this house, and I laughed at the thought that I was once afraid of going missing. How could I be forgotten by the world when I am etched into its surface? My presence is everywhere. I mark my calendars day by busy day; I fill up sketchbooks and journals and sticky notepads, and they don’t judge me no matter how long it takes. I jot down lines of poetry in a notebook — “Meat’s on the menu tonight, cutthroat in the kitchen” — and I leave them there to ripen, a promise to come back when I’m older. 

And it’s more than just written records. When I get lonely, I make playlists and send them out to friends, like little pieces of my heart to hold onto. When I get frustrated, I lace up my shoes and set new records in my Health app. When I get bored, I draw — everywhere: faces sketched on envelopes and loose paper, swirls on my desk, flowers climbing up my legs. Maybe that too is a way of remembering. 

And then, of course, there’s this. I didn’t expect to be closing out my column in quarantine like Peter, Paul and Mary, 500 miles away from the community that has helped shape me in the past couple of years. I didn’t expect to be sharing links to my articles on Facebook in lieu of a printed publication, feeling like I’m peddling cheap goods to a disinterested crowd.  

I used to think I was leaving this column behind like a legacy, something for others to look back on and remember. Now, I understand that it doesn’t matter who I write for, not really. The people at home reading aren’t the ones who give life to these words; I do that all by myself. Everything I touch and everything I create has a history embedded within it, even if it isn’t noticed by others. The bones that we walk on remain beneath our feet, whether we acknowledge them or not, and life goes on and on and on. Memory can survive in all forms, and if you listen closely, you’ll hear it ringing all around you.

Lauren Sheehan-Clark writes the Monday arts & entertainment column on the relationship between art and history. Contact her at [email protected].