Sunday, December 23, 2012

Pewter Dragons, Memory, and the Dustbin of History

Much like re-gifting, I am recycling a post from my old, never quite launched blog. I started a blog called Medievalandia, and not too long after I was invited to join a group blog here at Modern Medieval. I am much happier in this sort of shared environment. The piece below is the first post. It's hopeful for a future that doesn't happen, at least not in the way anticipated. But I am still (intermittently blogging), so that's something.

I wrote this as I was getting ready to move from St. Louis to New Orleans, a little over a year ago. I was thinking about this piece because it involves the memory of a Christmas gift. As my first full year at Tulane winds down, it feels appropriate to post this piece about beginnings, endings, and memory. As the Gawain-poet might say, also around this time of year: “A ȝere ȝernes ful ȝerne, and ȝeldez neuer lyke, / Ƿe forme to þe fynishment foldez ful selden.”


Ok, so here it goes.  My first blog post.  I must have started a blog a half-dozen times, and I've never gotten to the posting stage.  I always end up futzing around with the name and the layout, and then I ignore it or delete it.  I still don't know--at the time of writing this--if this blog will suffer the same fate or not.

Several events have come together to inspire me to try this again.  Most of them I won't talk about yet (tantalizing, eh?), but perhaps the most significant influencing factor is my impending move.  I am about to leave the institution where I received my PhD to take a postdoc position, and so I feel at a crossroads of sorts--what will this mean for my career? My personal life? Am I taking that first step towards a career (at last) or will I be treading water? Amidst all this fairly boring angst, I am also packing, sorting, eliminating, and reacquainting myself with belongings that I have kept hidden in closets for about a decade. 

During my archeological work, I discovered an old collection of pewter dragons and pseudo-medieval fantasy pieces.  You know the sort. I know you do.  I used to collect them, especially in high school, college, and even during the first part of grad school.  I was attracted to these hyperreal examples of popular medievalism long before I knew what a medievalist was.  I am hard put to explain my collection of these objects.  I once even had a full pewter, medievalesque chess set (I managed to sell it on eBay).  With the move ahead of me, I have decided to get rid of all of them (well most).  It is not because I have decided to put away childish things, but because (I think) I am not quite in touch with that former version of myself anymore. And, I am disinclined to just pack them and then pack them away again.  But, I did hold on to one piece for sentiment's sake.  One of the pieces was given to me as a Christmas gift by a dear friend who passed away while we were both Seniors in college. I find I am unwilling to part with objects that invoke his memory.  

Yet here is the troubling part...I am not sure if I selected the right piece. Because these pewter pieces are all so derivative and interchangeable, and perhaps because of my own shoddy memory, I could not with decisiveness remember which of the many pewter dragons passed through his hands.  I made a choice, and I am fairly sure I am right, but I'll never quite know.  I picked an object to rescue from the dustbin of my personal history and imbued it with sentiment and memory, but it may be a pure invention.  And, you know what? I think I am ok with that.  The memory is the most important thing, and the object is but a pointer to it.  In the twelve years since my friend's death I have revisited the memories of our friendship and those final days many times.  I am also becoming aware of how the more joyful of those memories are taking prominence, and how the once tremendously painful recollection of my adolescent idiocies, which caused some hard feelings, are starting to seem less important. Even though he was my oldest friend, and passed away when we were in our early twenties, I prefer to still think of him as my contemporary, and not some inert memory of my past. My memory of him persists, even if some of it is of my own shaping.   

This is an overly personal prologue to this blog, and I don't intend (at the moment) for this blog to always be so personal.  To be truthful, I don't know yet what shape this blog will take.  I'm going to let it happen as it will. In my reflections on packing, purging, and the past (I need to stop resorting to alliteration...and parentheticals), however, I hit on my main focus for this blog: the ways that the past lives on in the present, despite of and perhaps thanks to its fabrication.  I'm hoping, in the weeks and months ahead, to blog about the modern uses of the medieval, and the medieval engagement with its own pasts.  I'll be traveling ground already covered by many others, so time will tell whether I have anything to add to the many wonderful and fascinating blogs, articles, and books that take the interaction and exchange between past and present as their subject.  I do know that I have set starting a blog as a personal goal for a long time, and until now I have done little to realize it.  The real challenge will be to write entry #2.  Hopefully the next one will be more cogent, and more interesting to others.  I'm awfully aware that I really only wrote this piece for myself.

And, reading back over what I've written, I really do wish I remembered which pewter dragon he gave me.          


AndreaC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AndreaC said...

I'm sorry about the loss of your friend and that you weren't sure which goblet your friend gave you. It's amazing how certain things/people shape us. We never really know when we will lose someone we care about. In the end, the little things can become the big things, but I think your friend would be glad to know that you cared enough to save a goblet even if it wasn't the exact one given. It's the thought that counts. I hear you on starting and stopping blogs. Been there. Done that. I started a blog about becoming an author. Now that I am one, it just didn't seem to fit. I don't really like writing about writing. I really like to research and write about the Middle Ages. I'm glad that I found you and this blog. I look forward to future posts. I've written a few things that you guys might be interested in. I don't have a doctorate, just a fascination and a hobby. Check it out, if you like. I would have emailed you privately, but I didn't see a contact list. Anyway, if you're interested, here are a few links to some of my articles.

bwhawk said...

Rick, this is a great, honest post. I really like what you've said and implied about memory and the past--and pastness and memorials. It is a very real notion that (to appropriate your words and generalize a bit) we often "find [we are] unwilling to part with objects that invoke [a certain] memory" or many memories. Your off-hand mention of this type of "archeological work" is also telling. We dig, we find, we keep, we discard, all selectively, and all for deeply personal and personally important reasons. I find the echoes of your post even more poignant as I think about some of this for my own life. I recently pulled out a file box from my first year as a master's student--now several years behind me--and sorted it, figured out what I needed, wanted, and should keep, throw out, recycle, and shred. Then I put it all back into the box and decided I will deal with it another time. I put it out of my mind. As I read your post, the oddity of this action struck me.

I also love how your post echoes with what we do as historians (however we may define ourselves as such). We do not discard; we construct memories; we cling; we need; we desire. The more I muse upon how I have come to be a medievalist with the specific interests I have, the more I realize how embedded this all is in my own personal past, personal memories, and personal desires. Yet there is also a collective aspect to it, as we do not part with the objects of the past, but continue to revisit them. Thanks for that reminder.