Monday, May 15, 2006

Packrat Nostalgia

My mother trained me to save all papers, as they could be important some day. Last week I spoke to a few junior high students about activism, and cleaned out the "Drawer o' Gay" in my office filing cabinet. I recycled about 2 reams worth of paper that we no longer needed, but it was the uncovered (sometimes forgotten) memories that are worth commenting on:
  • An original fax from Fred Phelps to Phil Dubois about his intent to picket UW. After our "Angel Action," he sent a fax to Phil decrying his "assault" on the First Amendment. It was addressed to "Philip L. Dubois, Perfidious Pandering Poltroon."
  • A letter from Chasity Pasley (Russell Henderson's girlfriend, CAC student employee, and my friend) to the CAC staff, upset for what she felt was their abandonment of her during the trial. I also found the letter I wrote her in response one year (to the day) after Matt's attack, though I never sent it to her.
  • My concert ticket and backstage pass for the Elton John concert here in Laramie.
  • The original drawing that was chosen as the new Spectrum logo, submitted by a UW student. (We held a contest for people to suggest a new name and logo for the group.)
  • A stack of research I did on Exodus International, the largest "ex-gay" movement in the country. doesn't work in the long term, and is phsychologically damaging according to the APA and several other professional organizations who know about such things.
  • Various posters, fliers, and advertisements for Spectrum events, speakers, etc.
  • Countless news clippings and online articles (printed, of course) relating to Spectrum, interviews, events, and Matt.
  • A whole folder of info about the phone bank we organized when NBC ran their movie "The Matthew Shepard Story."
  • Gobs more stuff, steeped in history.

My point: Needless to say, some of the materials bring up a sudden tide of emotions and memories, long since rusted or forgotten. It's taken some time to get my brain wrapped around some of these things, and I've not gone through much of the materials in depth. I simply went through the drawer trying to identify items and decide if they should be kept, archived, or recycled.

My plan: Sort through the stacks in detail, and give much of the material to the American Heritage Center here on campus. They have a large archive of materials about Matt, and are always looking for more. They're also interested in documenting under-represented groups or themes, like Spectrum and GLBT people here at UW. Since the materials will be indexed, sorted, and stored in controlled environments, they should be available for many generations to come.

Today's lesson: The past, even though sometimes painful, can teach us many things. Go through your own scrap book, treasure chest, file cabinets, photo albums, etc. Dig through your past. Some items might be ready for us to "tidy" them out of lives, clearing much needed drawer/closet/storage space. Some of them can teach other people about things they've not yet encountered. And some of them...simply need to be remembered from time to time. To teach us new lessons, remind us of old ones, and keep us rooted in ourselves. We cannot escape our past, nor should we try. We should, instead, remember our mistakes and heartache, and find new joy in the happy memories.

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