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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

The Nazifa Chronicles

I realized recently that I’ve long been in the habit of recording my life—and this goes beyond the diaries I’ve kept regularly for over a decade. I’ve been recording my life for years and years. In high school, I followed my friends around with a very small video camera and hit record all the time. I still have all of those videos. A large part of why I value them is because they’re rarely of special occasions. There are a few of those (birthdays, graduation parties—I could embarrass a bunch of people I don’t know any more if I really wanted to), but the clips I like best are about the mundane.

I hounded people while on drives to the movie theater. I recorded snippets of the nonsense conversations teen girls have while just hanging out in someone’s kitchen. I documented the moment even when it didn’t seem worth documenting. And I’m glad I did. I hardly talk to anyone from high school anymore, but those clips are still really wonderful—a reminder of what my life looked and felt like at sixteen. They highlight how much has changed in the last decade—both for the better and the worst.

In college I started collecting quotes. I still took some video but only rarely. Instead, I wrote down every funny thing my friends said when we got together. Then I compiled a list of those quotes that I now annually post to Facebook. I’ve abandoned ship on videos, but my annual quote list is still going strong—though COVID-19 means this will be a lean year for quotes.

The high school videos and the quotes lists are records. They show me who I spent time with when I was, for example, nineteen. They sum up my social life—people I saw most often tended to get followed around by my camera and to make it onto the quotes list multiple times.

I dove into snail mail in college too. I bought stacks of postcards, I bought stationary, I bought a wax seal (seriously) and had very regular correspondence with friends who lived thousands of miles away. I have boxes of letters and postcards and notes and wedding invitations and wedding programs and Christmas cards, etc. from so many people who were once part of my every day.

I am not a carpe diem person, so it surprised me when I did realize just what I’ve been doing for about fifteen years. I don’t even write poems that are about actual events. My writing instead captures how I was feeling during a certain time in my life. It’s always somewhat abstract—a compilation of words that don’t paint a concrete scene so much as offer an emotional landscape.

I assume most of the letters and postcards I’ve sent in the last decade are gone—thrown away in the way normal people treat mail. Sometimes I feel foolish for hoarding everything the way I do. Despite that feeling, I can’t just throw away the boxes of mail. I’ve thought about it and it makes me anxious. I have moments—like most people—when I question my past relationships and wonder if I’m maybe inventing intimacy that was never there. The boxes and quotes and videos are proof I’m not inventing anything. Having concrete “proof” of friendship matters to me. Knowing I’m not nuts is always comforting.

I recently revived my allegiance to snail mail in an attempt to support the United State Postal Service. I sent around thirty postcards with quotes (I save quotes from everything I read too—books, poems, essays, etc.) to anyone who said they’d like one. I do wonder how many of those postcards will get held onto and which will be tossed in just a few weeks. It doesn’t really matter, but it is something I’m curious about.

All of this makes me feel like I should be someone who scrapbooks. Maybe that’d make more sense than boxes of (often handwritten) words I tuck away for safe keeping. But while I’d like to be Leslie Knope, I very much am not and so scrapbooking is beyond me. I’m just going to keep recording quotes. I’m going to keep saving mail. I’m going to keep sending mail. I’m going to keep recording my life in these specific ways because it’s a more-than-decade-old habit at this point, and I’m not good with change. That’s a good reason to keep doing something, right? Just blatantly refusing to change? Maybe the self-awareness makes this not so dumb.

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