One Way To Bring Back Lost Moments In Your Life

It may seem silly to record the minutiae of your life, but to Sarah Manguso, that's what matters most.

I've kept a daily diary for more than 20 years. As soon as I record a day, I forget most of it. That's the point -- the diary gives me permission to forget, lets me make room for the practical things I need to remember.

Sometimes, just to see what I'll find, I return to a day from 5, 10, 15 years ago. Sometimes it's about what I ate. Often it's like reading about someone else's life. But it all slowly returns. Some entries are miniature histories of places I'll never see again; as I read, their long-forgotten details become startlingly vivid.

1996, a falafel sandwich from a food cart. That day it rained so hard during my lunch break, and I stood in the archway of my building in a knot of people, watching the fast, tiny storm pass overhead until it was gone.

1997, a meatloaf sandwich with my boyfriend and his mother. There was mayonnaise on the bread. I couldn't believe his mother, such a sophisticated person, would use mayonnaise from a jar. There was another guest, a newspaper editor, to whom she spoke perfect French.

2001, a lamb sausage sandwich in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Shortly after I finished eating it, I played the best pool game of my life. I held my breath as I watched my bank shot sink the eight ball. Afterward my date gave me a fatherly hug that we laughed about for months.

I try to document the moments that, while intense, contain nothing momentous. They're the events most likely to fade, and their details are precious. When I read about a 15-year-old sandwich, I travel not just to a forgotten time, but to a forgotten self. I recall not simply what I ate, but who I was.

Sarah Manguso is the author of Ongoingness: The End of a Diary.

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