what you can find in a box

I’m cleaning out the Manila condo. What a strange thing: to go through paper bags filled with notes, documents, even pictures that you’ve wanted to keep for future reference but you’ve never actually looked at them until you’re cleaning out your place and choosing what to keep and what to throw.

In a box, I found old CDs with mp3s that I’ve collected over the years — songs I never wanted to lose but never listened to or have already deleted from my laptop and iPod because I don’t listen to them anymore. I found pins and memorabilia of things that I don’t even quite remember what they were referring to.

In a folder, I found this:

Found this again in a folder and the water damage makes me sad that I didn’t take better care of it

I was writing regularly for the Super section in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Ben Templesmith, the artist for 30 Days of Night graphic novel, was in town and I interviewed him and he did a sketch for me right after our interview.

I found the two short stories I wrote, way back in 1997, with notes from writer Connie Maraan, before she became my professor for Introduction to Fiction. She liked both works but there were a lot of suggestions.

Found a letter that was written for me — a very moving piece about someone who was in a similar situation in his life to mine and he was so thankful for being able to meet with me and talk.

I found certificates of appreciation from different schools and organizations where I had given talks. I did so much of those; it’s quite shocking, really.

These are things I’ve set aside, put in a box or a folder in a paper bag, with the intention to come back to them every now and then. Maybe to remind myself who I was and where I came from. And also to make sure that the lessons that are found within are never lost.

I’ve only looked at them again every time I decide to move out, which I do every two or three years, it seems.

What a strange feeling: to hold something in your hand that you haven’t seen in a long time and have to decide whether to keep it (knowing full well you’re probably going to forget it exists again) or to throw it away and lose it forever.

What do we really get to keep in this world? Nothing, really. Nothing is assured. Not even your memories. They can play tricks on you.

Every time I do this little exercise, I keep less and I end up valuing what I retain just a little bit more.

Maybe one day, I won’t ever have to move out again. I’ll have a permanent place of my own. Maybe one day, I won’t have to make these decisions again.

And if that happens, maybe those things — and all the emotions, memories, learning that are attached to them — will never see the light of day again. They’ll be in a box or in a paper bag in some closet in my permanent home just gathering dust. Maybe somebody will find it after I’m gone and they’ll make up stories about why I’ve kept them and wouldn’t that be nice?

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