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The Disappearing Narrative of Our Lives

Cathedral of Trees, Rich Park, Mocksville, NC

For years there has been a rush for our lives to become digital. Few people I know write letters requiring a stamp. The staffing at local newspapers continues a long-term decline. The bits and pieces of local life are more and more under-reported. Email with changing clients and no good way to preserve the important ones has always been a poor choice to preserve history. Now people seem to be abandoning email for SMS or even the less reliable Facebook messenger. Try finding something from fifteen years ago in your text messages.

I suspect we are losing the really interesting things that might help historians understand us and our times. What is film worthy today might not be as important years down the road as the letter you did not write to your cousin living in another state. As my wife and I have moved over the years and downsized our living spaces, we have been forced to jettison many of pieces of paper that at one time I hoped to preserve. I suspect we are not alone.

Even if you are among the few of us who still read paper newspapers and you do have a copy of that newspaper article that meant so much to you, can you actually put your hands on it? Part of my early life in Mount Airy, North Carolina, was defined by my knowing R.J. Berrier. R.J. as he was known to his friends spent fifty-two years writing for the Mount Airy Times and then the Mount Airy News. I wrote about him in a post, Love and Respect for Print. When I woke up today to read that one of R.J.’s friends, Eleanor Powell, had died at the age of ninety, I was immediately reminded of the article that she wrote around twenty years ago celebrating R.J.’s many years in the world of newspapers.

I tried a Google search and then a search on the Mount News Archive. The searches returned nothing which surprised me because I remember Eleanor getting an award from the Associated Press for her article on R.J. It seems a shame that so much of what makes life memorable is so hard to keep close. I likely have a copy of the article somewhere in the boxes that followed us to our new home. I might have been able to have put my fingers on it two houses ago, but not now.

Modern life throws enough challenges at us that it is hard enough keeping up with the needs of today without trying to organize the past. If nothing else I think this demonstrates why writing for yourself is so critically important. When I went to write this piece, I could not remember exactly how long R.J. had worked in newspapers. There is certainly no one alive that could tell me. I thought it was around fifty years. Fortunately, a little over fifteen years ago, I wrote that post about R.J. and the information was there. I am sorry that I did not scan Eleanor Powell’s article about R.J. at the time.

Perhaps the best narrative of history is the one you write yourself. I am pleased to chronicle my own times and how the world has looked to me. Writing to record your own view of the world might be the best remedy.

There are advantages. Just before we left the coast and moved inland, my new neighbor, Bill, told me that he wanted to debate me about something I said about the history of the White Oak River. He said he changed his mind when a Google search showed that I was the author of one of the top-ranked articles on the subject. There is nothing like being your own authority on the subject because no one else thought it was important enough to write about it.

November 14, 2021

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