Curating the past


These are four last days of school: third grade, high school, my bachelor’s degree, and my master’s degree one week ago. As Sarah pointed out, forks are in the road and I’m traveling down them.The kind of anti-climactic moment of receiving my diploma in a confusing ceremony was finally grounded when I had to organize all the junk I’ve left at my parent’s house each time I’ve moved. This isn’t really a post about graduating, which was fine, but about spending all day sorting through an exhibition of my past. I think I need more time between me and CMU in order to write about it.

I am a collector of memories.

I am obsessed with keeping things and holding on to the past. I don’t know why, no one else in my family is so sentimental. I have a good portion of my planners since elementary school. I have carefully filed most of my syllabi and coursework in college. Part of it is ‘I don’t know if I’ll want this again’ and part of it is ‘I don’t want forget who I am/was.’ I have class photos, all the notes my first love wrote me, and oh-so many movie stubs. I don’t want to forget where I’ve been and what I was thinking at the time. I have always been so driven to figure myself out and know myself.

I started (an abandoned) my own scrapbooks when I was elementary school. Partly because my best friend at the time, Julia’s, mom would make these very cute scrapbooks about her childhood. Somehow, mine lacked that mother-scrapbooker’s charm:


This a note and drawing that Julia made and the photos are something I added later. We also had a ‘comic’ where were drew ourselves and our classmates as different fruit and vegetables.

And I came across this photo, which made me realize how young I was even though at the time I felt like I was much more mature:


This as in fifth grade. We had to write a biography of someone famous and then do a show-and-tell presentation where we pretended to be the person we wrote about. I remember struggling to find a celebrity I wanted to be and that I could dress up as. I felt like I didn’t know any famous women and definitely none that were Asian, which I felt like I was limited to, because, you know, no one would believe me otherwise. I remember I made this poster at the 11th hour after finding a slim book about her in the library. Thank goodness my mom watches figure skating during the olympics otherwise who knows who I would have chose.

I felt like I was a fraud. We were supposed to pick our favorite celebrity (note the Pokéball to the right on the yellow poster) and I had no feelings for Ms. Yamaguchi. I was also embarrassed by the puffy dress and ugly colors. But my teacher came around and took a picture, so now look: a memory preserved.

Something that came out going through all these things was that I wanted to be a writer.


This was an assignment we had in fifth grade where we had to pretend it was the future and write about why we were going to get a stamp of ourselves. Basically, what we wanted to do in the future. I was going to be an explorer and novelist, because I loved animals and writing. Something else I noticed about my writing was that I always sounded cocky. That was my writer’s voice: to sound self-assured and falsely humble. I guess sometimes it still is. It’s kind of painful to read it now, but be comforted knowing that I always wrote that way to be funny, not because I thought I was a a wonder child:

“I, Jaclyn T.T. Pham*, the world famous explorer, naturalist, zoologist, and writer am proud to announce the arrival of my first stamp. That would make me the first person ever to have their picture on a stamp without being dead! The stamp was dedicated to me because of my hard work and efforts to help save the world…Next week I’m traveling to Brazil where I hope to find a cure for cancer. To answer your last question, yes, the five new species I found are doing fine! Thank you for your time, and each stamp you buy is a donation to the US Wildlife Foundation!”
(*My mom had taught me how to spell my name differently. Looks weird now, doesn’t it?)

I also found a couple of comics I wrote. They were definitely on par with the greatest graphic novel’s and their ability to reveal human condition:


Ironically, what made me decided not to pursue writing seriously anymore was I took a special English college class between my junior and senior year of high school at a local college. The class was all high school (minority) students, but it was taught by a professor and was structured like a college class in order to encourage us to pursue higher education. We could pick from three subjects and I choose English, naturally. I think the other two were science and business. It was an autobiographical reading and writing class where were would read two autobiographies and would write our own autobiographical piece in chunks. I thought it was an incredible and fun class. I’m sorry I can’t find my teacher, Mark Myers, anywhere to thank him. Taking the class (and the fact that I was reading a Charles Dicken’s book at the same time) showed me how poor of a writer I really was. Despite his excellent teaching, I thought I should leave the writing to the professionals.

This was an excellent and observant decision on my part. Overall, I wrote more and worse than I remember. I wrote about writer’s block more than I would have liked to remember. My journal entries (using that term loosely) are 90% complaints. I also have notebooks half-full of my terrible drawings. I don’t think I ever got better at drawing and became discouraged. On most of them I graded myself as an “F.” I guess this kind of makes me sound like I give up a lot. But you also know that I still write and draw for fun, I just chose not to dedicate my life to it.

What I discovered though, was that there are some things from the past that I didn’t want to remember about myself. Which isn’t shocking, but I feel like I was just more self-aware as I was sorting through these things than I normally am. It’s kind of strange to have the power to decide how you want to remember yourself. When I’ve done it before, everything had been part of this precious snow globe of a younger Jacklynn. Now, I think about what I really want to do with these things when I come across them later. Who would really care to read these things? (Matt has helped with that: me being able to let go of things).

I mean, hypothetically, I’m done moving. No more school. This could be my real-person moment and my real-person life beginning. This could be the time I get all of the stuff out of my parents’ house because I have my own place to live. Isn’t that strange!


That’s me touching my toes.

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