I used to worry about posterity. Since my early teens, I’ve kept, and occasionally updated, what I only half-jokingly refer to as the “Smithsonian Box.” I once imagined the tattered cardboard carton as a repository of a burgeoning arts scene helmed by my cronies and me, eventually to be bequeathed to the institution for the benefit of future generations. Ambitious, sure, but the fuel of youth is naiveté and I had enough to power a perpetual-motion machine.
As the years went on, only a few of us remained in the game; some matured enough to get out while still relatively sane; others died from cruel absurdities too sad to tell. Consequently, the archive has grown slowly this past decade, as fanciful notions like “making it” have gradually given way to “making do.” Yesterday, I made a wistful visit back to the box, if only to see if the sense of nostalgia I had anticipated had borne out. For the most part it has – Joan Didion wrote in her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” that writers are born with a “pre-sentiment of loss, which is really just nostalgia dressed in pale blue. The excursion made for a rueful afternoon that brightened slightly with the arrival of the daily mail. Amongst the clutch of bills and adverts was an unmarked letter, wrapped in Mylar and bearing no return address. The crisp letter inside read:
“Dear Mr. Howell – Greetings from the future. Given your present place in the space-time continuum, this letter may seem premature since your era has yet to perfect time-travel, but be assured the acquisitions staff of the Smithsonian Institution is pleased to express our gratitude for your generous (eventual) contribution to our collection. Though your archive is a complement to our cache of related matter, we believe it in the interest of both the collection and you that measures be taken to improve the contents of your donation. To this end, please consider producing more work of general import. The inclusion of ‘Nomaville: Volume One,’ is a wonderful start, but would you consider supplementing it with a second volume? Ditto your so-called ‘Rapture and Woe’ feature film “trilogy,” which lamentably only contains two installments (and the second one is clearly cobbled to together from outtakes of the first). The various bundles of reporter’s notebooks might seem to someone in your century candidates for our institution, but, in fact, they are not. The illegibility of your handwriting is a stumbling block on par with the Great Wall of China (now dismantled to buttress China’s east coast since the melting of the polar ice caps – so get that hybrid you’ve been mulling). Moreover, you’re simply not important enough in our era to merit inclusion of these materials. There is still time to address this situation – namely by firing your manager Kit Fergus. Through our causal-recalibration technology, it has become widely accepted that Kit Fergus’ refusal to take your 23rd phone call of July 21, 2009, a teaspoon purposely dropped by a woman named Paige and a particularly malodorous meadow vole in Malta lead to circumstances which coalesce into World War III. Your career is already riddled with negative associations; you don’t need another. You might also consider getting a haircut, seeing as your ‘modern village minstrel’ look is quite outré in our century and has made you the subject of some ridicule in this office. Thank you for your time. Best regards, LEN-E655321.”
I folded the letter back into its shimmering envelope and filed it in the Smithsonian box.