The One Thing That Defies Organization by Terry Shames
With the lead-up to publication of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, came months of unaccustomed work preparing for marketing and promotion. I had heard how much time and effort it took, but I was unprepared for the fact that everything else pretty much came to a standstill. I plunged in with great enthusiasm—and with a wave “goodbye” to my usual, organized self.
The novel came out mid-July, and at some point I realized I had to tackle the chaos in my life. I bought a filing cabinet and instigated a filing system; read through several months of “I’ll get to it later” emails, flagging and filing them; and made a list of the blogs I’ve posted for the last year so I know who I blogged for, and when. So I have managed to whip my professional life into shape, but what about my home life?
I had managed to keep up pretty well, but recently I took on the big one: I dragged out all the picture albums, boxes of photos, and negatives (remember those?) from the cabinet where they seemed to have multiplied. I thought I would take everything to one of those places that scans pictures into digital format. Before that, though, I was determined to ruthlessly throw out all the duplicates and the photos that meant nothing to me. How many pictures of a hike my family took in Colorado when I was 16 did I really need?
Looking through the albums, my first thought was, “Who are these people?” There were pictures of people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I don’t remember where they went—or even their names! The best thing I can say is that they remind me of my past. Then there were countless photos of my son’s friends from childhood—kids I don’t remember or recognize. They are darling pictures, but I don’t know who they are!
And then I started wondering whom I was going to all this trouble for. My husband and I are busy and don’t sit around reminiscing over photo albums. My sister has plenty of pictures of her own to deal with. My son hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. I can’t ever see him looking through these pictures and thinking fondly, “Oh, there’s my mom’s Aunt Lottie when she was in her 30s.” More likely, he’d say, “Who’s that?”
I have piles of pictures of me as a baby, and of my parents and their parents, taken when for some reason people thought it was better to take pictures of people standing far away. Half the time I can’t even see who is in the pictures. None of the people are famous, so it’s unlikely a future biographer will lament my profligate destruction of the pictures.
That’s not even to mention my husband’s family pictures. Removed from my mother-in-law’s apartment when she died a few years ago, the albums and loose pictures have stayed exactly where they were when they came into my house—in shopping bags in my husband’s study. Pictures of people I never knew.
So why do I keep all this stuff? All I know is that it makes me feel queasy to think of throwing them away. Do I worry that one of these days I’ll regret not having them? Do I imagine that one day I will want to pore over them? Who knows? I remember once going through a box of random photos with my grandmother. We ran across a photo of a man in a Civil War uniform. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandmother laughed, “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know why I have it.” And she tucked it back into the box.
I’d like to hear whether other people have the same impulse to keep all those pictures—and why?
Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where her grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery, the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.
Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at www.Terryshames.com.