Once in a while, I open up this box to flip through a record of what’s slipped my mind. I find literary analyses of poems I can’t recall cozied up with Freytag’s pyramids diagramming short stories that don’t ring a bell. Neatly penned lab notes indicate I used to know how to measure the molar mass of butane and determine the calories of energy required to melt a gram of ice. Under sketches of a design for a cardboard chair, the teacher’s note informs me that, despite divisive group dynamics, my classmates and I did successfully construct it, but we lost 10 points when it failed to survive the stress test of being sat upon.
Who knew I did these things?
It is satisfying to rediscover that I could once list all the U.S. presidents in order and to see I earned a note of “Excellent analysis!!” when I dug into the Langston Hughes’s “Dream Deferred.” My research paper slamming conventional modern education is filled with unwavering conviction. (At the time, I was too fired up to appreciate the teacher’s dry response: “My, here I am again, trying to critique a paper that has condemned all methods of evaluation.”)
And — oh! — the marginalia! I’ve forgotten how my mind moved at age 15, but the random scrawled minutia comes together as a snapshot of what was bubbling in my brain. I skim past abstract doodles, encounter song lyrics dripping with Significance, drift through acid-penned commentary running side-by-side with lecture notes, and puzzle over scribbled conversations that no longer have a context.
I would write an equation to sum all this up — perhaps knowledge forgotten, added to memory, divided by years of perspective — but it seems I did not save a single note from any math class.