Stefan Grund, via Mastodon, shared this interesting article, telling how Paul Ford fulfilled his dying father’s last wish: have his writings made available online, at the Internet Archive, and got me thinking about preserving memories and how ephemeral all of us are in this world.
My father, dying, came in and out of stillness. He couldn’t hear well, so my brother and I yelled a stream of non sequiturs: “Remember when you ran that marathon?” “Ivy is doing a ballet recital!” “We love you!” I reminded him that he had wanted me to put all his writing online. “I’m going to do that!” I said.
At his father’s last moments, Paul Ford recalls the promise he had mad and says he’ll stand by it, as I believe we all should do with anything we promise. That’s why one should never promise what they won’t be fulfilling.
I thought, briefly, about just not doing it. What could he say? What could anyone say? It wasn’t as though the internet was clamoring for the papers of a little-known English professor who retired in the mid-1980s. But a friend who’s a classics scholar told me that this is exactly the stuff people should be digitizing. Vellums and parchments will survive another 1,000 years. We should save the ephemeral before it is lost. What was more ephemeral than this? Plus: A promise is a promise.
This really resonated with me: we should save the ephemeral before it is lost. When Paul Ford flirts with the idea of not fulfilling his father’s last wish, he not only risks breaking a promise, but also lose every idea, every expression, every piece ever conceived by his dad ever recorded.
How many ideas do you have on a daily basis, only not to record it? How many of these ideas, thoughts and insights are lost because of their ephemeral essence — and not turned into texts, into something to be consumed by family, friends or even broader audiences?
My father and I had spent maybe 10 days together in the previous two decades, funerals included. This would be the most we’d hung out in years.
Reading this made me at the same time sad for Paul Ford because, at least apparently, he and his father didn’t seem to be close for whatever reasons or circumstances, providing little interactions and memories; and happy because I can enjoy being near my father — both of my parents, actually — due to us living near enough and because I try to be at their place for at least a couple of hours weekly, making it possible to construct memories and good moments together.
My father’s last decade was one of relentless downsizing, from apartment to assisted living to nursing home, shedding belongings, throwing away clothes and furniture. And at the end: Two boxes and a tiny green urn. The ultimate zip file. After I parsed and processed and batched his digital legacy, it came to 7,382 files and around 7 gigabytes.
Paul Ford’s father spent roughly 70 years of his life putting his thoughts into words. In hindsight, no one can argue against that being a respectable amount of time — but it really amazes me how a life’s work can be reduced to only 7 gigabytes!
I know technology, compression and miniaturization play big parts here, but I really thought 7 decades of work would produce as much as 10 times more, when stored. This really proves me wrong, and worse, makes me wonder about how much my own whole life production would sum up to. Better not to overthink it.
In time, we all end up in a folder somewhere, if we’re lucky.
After reading this article, I started to wonder if I should, one day, ask my own children to make what I write publicly available… I’m no writer, or poet, far from that, and maybe my contributions to society would stray far from useful.
But there’s the possibility of leaving them the access keys to my ramblings and thoughts the day I’m no longer here, so they can maybe know a private part of me. The part only I know, the journal entries, the private notes and bookmarks , and things like that. Because along with photos and memories, I do believe that would somehow enrich my presence around them.
Death is a lossy process, but something always remains.
Death always brings losses, indeed. That’s why having a set of well cultivated and maintained memories, created by living the most we can around the ones we love and care about is important.
No matter if such memories will not end up being uploaded to the Internet Archive, having them all available as personal records, preserved but in our own and sole intimacy, will prove reassuring whenever we want to access them in our own heart’s archive.