On letting go of my visual life

A few years ago, I was offered a writing tip from a friend who was trying to advise me as to how to overcome writer’s block.  At the time, I was strung as tight as piano wire, unable to come up with a single creative word.  To add self-flagellation to injury, I was furious with myself for becoming the cliche of a writer who sat staring, paralyzed, at a blank computer screen.

Of course, in my case, "blank" is a relative term.  But I digress.

Anyway, my friend advised me that he used a technique that helped him when he found himself floundering.  He suggested that I forget about composing an introduction, working through the salient points and concluding with a profound thought or compelling call to action.  Instead, he advised, "Just begin writing, even if you begin in mid-sentence.  Write as if the thoughts had already been flowing for pages and pages.  Start in the middle of the document, and work your way back, or forward, it doesn’t matter.  This can trick your mind into believing that you have simply dropped into a continuum of free-flowing ideas, and before you know it, you’ll be able to begin at the beginning."

I was skeptical.  Frustrated, yet skeptical.

As it turns out, it is a trick I’ve used for awhile now.  Most of the time, it works well for me. 
it takes the pressure off of trying to come up with an attention-grabbing opening line, and I give myself permission to write in a more stream-of-consciousness manner, knowing that I can always go back and ruthlessly edit later.  another trick that has helped has been to keep a running open file of words, phrases, topic ideas and inspirational text from which I can draw when needed.

I say all of the above to set up the manner in which I approached this essay.  I tend to be very private, and I rarely write about anything personal.  When first deciding to set up this blog, I was determined to write only about issues that pertained to accessibility and assistive technology, and not to write about personal feelings related to my own vision loss.  My thinking was that there are plenty of others who write about their trials and tribulations with their disability, why add to the chatter?  I didn’t feel that I could write about it in a way that was valuable.  I thought I could be of greater service to others if I kept my feelings out of my writing.

Still, there are a few posts here describing various adverse circumstances in which I’ve found myself on occasion, and to my surprise, all who have read my rants, missives and manifestos have been incredibly supportive.

It is understandable that my readers might, at least, every once in a while, like to hear from the human being behind the blog.  With the hope that this is the case, and I’m not aggrandizing myself, I thought I’d write about something a little more personal today.

I’ve only been living in the house I’m in now for about a year and a half.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself in spring cleaning mode, and decided it was time to unpack more of the boxes stacked up in the garage.  At the rate I’m going, I thought, I might as well just leave it all packed for when they come to move me into the senior living facility.  it will make it so much easier when they bring it all to the thrift store.

So, determined to be the master of my own donation destiny, I began going through boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day in years.  Most of us have had to suffer the madness of moving from one dwelling to another, and in the process, we’ve learned that we have too much stuff.  In fact, I wondered, as I pulled open a box that contained trinkets from my childhood, how many of us have boxes that we NEVER open, we just haul them from place to place, thinking we’ll get to it at some undetermined point in the future, only to realize that we have no place to put any of it?  Here I’m reminded of the comedy routine performed by  the brilliant George Carlin, who railed against the accumulation of belongings we move from one residence to another throughout our lives.  Remember the routine he did about the extinction of humanity, leaving behind "the Earth, plus plastic?"

Bent over one particular box, I could feel it was crumbling, the cardboard wrinkled, the tape peeling, the corners frayed.  This one must be a really old one, I thought.  Wonder what’s in it.

The box was full of photographs.  Loose photos, still in the envelopes with the negatives tucked inside (have you wrapped your mind around the fact that we’ll never have photo negatives again?), albums, and even school yearbooks.  Photographs taken over a lifetime of milestones…milestones that ceased to be recorded when I began to really lose my eyesight.

I do not remember the precise point at which I stopped taking pictures, but it was years ago.  Decades of my life have now passed without the cheery chastisement to "say cheese!" as I snapped a photo of some timeless moment.  I hadn’t even thought of it until right then, staring down into a box full of those memories imprinted on hundreds and hundreds of paper squares that I will never see again.  When is the last time I even looked at them?  Surely, there must be packages of photographs in here, picked up from the drugstore rack of developed rolls of film that I’ve never even opened.  Intending to place them lovingly in a photo album, I just assumed I’d get to it one day, but one day came and I could no longer recognize anything in a picture.  I just left the envelopes, unopened.  Now, I would never know what had been picture-worthy at the time.  There must be events recorded there that I’ve long forgotten.  That’s what the photos are for…to jog our memories, to refresh our recollection of an event, a celebration, that Christmas when…

But it’s all gone to me now.  I felt, standing over the box in my garage that day, as though I had a sort of Alzheimer’s disease, only instead of the blissful ignorance of memories lost, the past slips away while you stand by and experience every moment missed, conscious of the loss like the sensation of the sand pulling away from beneath your feet as the ocean waves rush to retreat from the shore.  What do I do with the photos now?

I have no one to give them to.  Who would care?  I cannot describe them to future generations, and what was significant to me at the time is surely meaningless to someone else.  There will be no reminiscing, no laughter over the dated hairdos, the outrageous outfits, the long-lost friends whose names just won’t come to mind.  Yet, throwing away all of my old photos, albums, yearbooks, school portraits, unopened envelopes emblazoned with that bright yellow Kodak logo seems like an act of assisted suicide.

I wonder what to do now.  This has me feeling uneasy.  I’ve long since let go of my visual life, yet disposing of a lifetime of happy birthdays, spectacular sunsets, foreign travel, forested trails, and rolling road trips would be a kind of amputation of the soul.  What should I do?  What would you do?  What have you done?  Tell me about a time when you let go of your visual life.