Bit Rot and the Difficult Task of Curating Your Past

Credit; Antonio Roberts

I occasionally hear of people who have degrees in library science.  This has always puzzled me – I could see how someone might get a bachelors degree in such a field, but a PhD?  What would the dissertations cover?  Reconfigurations of the Dewey Decimal System? Strategies to improve database search efficiency?

A couple of weeks ago I finally met someone who had degrees in library science, and now I finally GET it.  She explained some of the in’s and out’s of storing data, the process of archiving, and the tough job of knowing what to throw away and what to keep. Library science also seems to require some conflict resolution and negotiation skills to help people let go of items, books, and documents that are no longer relevant.

And where I once thought that library science might possibly be the most boring degree path possible, I now think it shall be a path for me to pursue in a future incarnation.

During my brief lesson on the need for and usefulness of library science, I was introduced to a phenomenon I’d never heard of. Bit rot.  For some reason, it strikes me as really funny, and I laugh every time I say it out loud.  Bit rot is the gradual degradation of data and information in storage media – also known as silent corruption, a phrase that is even funnier to me.

Electronic data in these storage mediums isn’t really decaying the way one would typically imagine when envisioning a rotting material. To put it very simply, storage media contains tiny metallic regions that hold an electrical charge. Sometimes, through various factors that contribute to decay, these regions can change their electrical charge, known as flipping. These charge flips can cause data to be corrupted or lost. Bit rot can cause small issues, such as clicks or pops in audio files, to the extreme of entire files becoming completely unreadable by software.

My amusement by the idea of bit rot got me to thinking more about a topic that is always at the forefront of my mind: knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.  And, if you keep something, how long should you keep it?  How important is what I’m keeping and this will affect the type of storage I use?


I read a really great little book a couple of years ago called Experience Curating by Joel Zaslofsky. (By the way, it is ridiculously cheap on Amazon right now – this is my own personal endorsement; I am not receiving any kickbacks for posting this.) In his book, Joel makes the point that with all the information we have flying at us every day, we have to come up with a way to sift through it, isolate what is most important to us, and store the information in such a way that we can easily retrieve it. Just how a museum curator might select and display only the best and most relevant pieces to represent certain ideas or historical periods, so we must be ruthless in how we gather and deal with the information in our own lives.

I don’t think most of us are very good at curating our lives. We try to convince ourselves that we really can take in all the information available to the world, we can read all the books, we can listen to all the music, and so on.  But, this is entirely impossible. According to a recent Forbes article, 90% of the data currently existing in the world was only created in the last two years. Mind boggling, much?!

This begs the question, can everything really be meaningful?  Or does everything start to lose its meaning when there is too much of it? And with the wealth of ideas and “stuff” in the world, how do we determine what is most meaningful to each of us personally?

Here’s an example.  With the development of cheap digital cameras and smartphones with good camera capabilities, people take insane amounts of photographs. But really, how many of those photographs are quality work? Also, are the myriad of photographs we are so quick to snap really helping us to remember an event or special moment? There’s something called the photo-taking impairment effect that says our frantic need to photograph everything might actually reduce our ability to fully appreciate and remember the subject of the photograph.

How many of us go through all those photos stored on Facebook and Instagram and actually organize them in any useful way?  And how many of us have SO many photos that the idea of culling our collections seems completely daunting and overwhelming?  I should add here that all of your old photos sitting away in files somewhere are subject to bit rot, too, so you might not want to wait too long before deciding which ones you really want to save long term.


Besides the ninja-skill requiring job of sorting and sifting information that is shoved at us every day, sometimes curating our past can be equally difficult. I’ve been struggling for a long time to figure out what to do with old photographs and possessions that I no longer want…but they aren’t entirely my possession to make decisions about.

My mother passed five years ago, and so I’ve made alot of difficult choices about what things of hers to keep and what to throw away. Some of her prized possessions hold little meaning for me because I don’t know the stories behind them or the emotions stored within them. However, it still feels rather cavalier on my part to just dismiss the gravity those things carried for my mom by giving them away or throwing them away.

My dad is about to remarry and is also deciding what possessions from his “previous’ life should continue forward and what should be left behind.  And again, I’m asked if I want this or that, and should this be thrown away or kept? I struggle with knowing whether I will one day regret the choices I am now making about those things.  Right now, simplicity and minimalism resonate with me – will I always feel that way?

I wonder too about how my children play into this curation game. I had not thought about it until recently….that what I am throwing away and keeping impacts them, what they know about their heritage, the stories and photos that would have contributed to their shaping.

I have been divorced for almost two years, and I felt a great need to get rid of as many things from my old life as possible.  I no longer wanted the furniture, kitchen items, or house decor that my ex and I had once bought together and shared.  Those things only kept me tied to something I am very happy to be free from.  But I am heartbroken now to realize that I never took my children’s feelings about those things into deep consideration.  I thought of how I desperately wanted to be rid of things, but not that they might desperately need to stay attached to those same things from the years that their father and I were married.

I’m glad I came to this realization before I tossed out all of the old photos I had of our family when I was still married. I’m glad I didn’t delete all of the digital photos I have stored on Facebook that still have their father in them.  I credit this to an article I read a while back.  Those old photographs and even the household “things” I got rid of don’t belong solely to me – they also belong to my children. Tossing old photos is kind of equivalent to erasing their past, and saying that those years didn’t matter.  But they did. And it is not my job to curate my the information and memories that are important to my children and their lives.


Like most things in life, I think we have to pursue the middle way in deciding what to keep and what to throw away.  Keeping nothing or just very little has the power to rob loved ones in our lives of stories, items, and memories that they are entitled to.  At the same time, keeping everything take away meaning, reducing what is special and unique to the realm of the commonplace.

I think what I’ve learned by chewing on all of these ideas is that, like all things, nothing that I do impacts only me.  My actions, what I consider meaningful, and how I curate my own life ripples out and affects others, most importantly, my children. I’ve been quick to throw away so much because it reduces my stress and makes me feel more comfortable. But that is not necessarily true for them.

Perhaps we should approach our lives a bit more like archivists. The currently trendy idea of minimalism tells us to discard with abandon, while our consumeristic culture is also telling us to buy cheap and buy fast.  Maybe we need to put the brakes on both of these ideas by taking the time to determine what we really find most meaningful in life, and then carefully preserve just those things.


There’s No One Better to Take Care of Yourself….Than You


I just returned from a week-long vacation to Upstate New York where I used to live. I’m about to jump back in full time to the workforce and really needed a breather after nursing school.

I stayed with one of my best friends the whole time, and it was incredibly relaxing – alot of wine, alot of good coffee, shopping, touring the beautiful Finger Lakes countryside, and most importantly- sleeping in ridiculously late every morning.

One of the many reasons I enjoy being with this friend so much is she literally doesn’t think I can do any wrong. One day she’ll come to her senses and lose the biased filter she’s looking through, but until then I will continue to relish her encouragement and constant cheering on of everything I do.

Almost every time I talk to this friend, she says:  “Julie, I’m so proud of you. You are making such good decisions!”

Every time I hear her say this, my first instinct is to snort with laughter.  Me? Make good decisions?  And all the stupid choices I’ve ever made in my life flash before my eyes. She must have had a little too much Finger Lakes wine, I think to myself.

But then she’ll remind me of specific decisions that I’ve made over the last three years – really hard decisions, decisions that demanded sacrifice on my part, decisions that changed the course of my life forever, decisions where the end outcomes were entirely uncertain.  And yes, she’s right. I have been making good decisions.


Lately, I’ve been using a neuroscience and mindfulness app to help me eat more mindfully. I’ve always managed to keep my weight within healthy limits, but its been a lifelong struggle. Even as a vegan or vegetarian, keeping the weight down isn’t easy when eating is one of your main coping mechanisms for life ‘stuff’.

As I was listening recently to one of the daily meditations, the app’s designer, a neuroscientist named Judson Brewer, commented that ‘the best person to take care yourself – is you.’ I TOTALLY agree with this statement, but I think it takes some real convincing people to get them to trust in themselves.  Many of us are taught from a very young age not to trust our instincts, to receive external confirmation, and to rely on the experts.  This belief in the inadequacy of ourselves is a real disservice to us – it overlooks the divine within us and the fact that we know ourselves better than anyone else ever could.

It took me a long time to start trusting myself to know what is best for me. To reach this point, I had to get to a fundamental shift in how I viewed myself.


When I was little, as young as 7 or 8, I remember thinking that I wished I could just push pause on my brain.  If I could just step out of my body and brain for 5 minutes, I would feel so relieved.  How I wish I had known about meditation back then, or even contemplative prayer as taught by Richard Rohr or Thomas Keating.

I thought that I was what I thought. Even as a youngster, I could conjure up thoughts that made me feel like a horrible person. And the constant stream of thoughts coming down my brain pipeline was relentless and overwhelming. Yet, I believed those thoughts and acted on those thoughts because I didn’t know there was an alternative.

Finally, in my 30s, I began to try out meditation, largely thanks to Rohr and Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh. (I finally stopped believing that ridiculous notion suggested by a Frank Peretti novel that demons will stir up the soup of our minds when we try to empty them through meditating.)  I was astounded when I discovered through meditation that what I had desperately hoped for in early childhood was true, albeit in a slightly different way.

Inside me, there is the “me” I think I am and identify with, and then there is the “REAL ME.” This realization changed everything for me and started building the foundation on which I could trust myself.

I now know there is the ego, the false me – a ghost that thinks it really exists and will last forever.  It is the me that gets blown around by the circumstances in my life, that gets its feelings hurt, that feels it must have its way all the time.

Then, there is the REAL ME, the deepest part that is connected with the Divine and is eternal. This is the calm, still ME that isn’t afraid, that loves and accepts all, that knows that “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”


I really like the passage in the New Testament Gospels about the vine and the branches as told by Jesus (or I would interpret this as the Cosmic Christ, or Christ-consciousness). In the book of John (which I view as a mystical, post-resurrection view of Jesus), Jesus tells the disciples that he is the vine and they are the branches. If they remain in him, they will be fruitful, but if they aren’t plugged into that vine, they will wither away.

This idea makes so much sense to me now that I get the idea of there being two “me’s” – my false self, and my true self.  My true self is the vine – that divine part of me that brings life, and love, and creativity, and joy. It is the part of me allows me to make good decisions, decisions that aren’t rooted in fear and shame. The branches are my false self – the part of me that can look pretty and smart on the outside but doesn’t possess anything longlasting or of substance.


We are complete and whole as we are.  We just miss this sometimes because we get so caught up in believing our false selves.  Yes, we are influenced and impacted by our environments, genetics, and so many other factors. But way deeper than any of that is who we really are.

Later in the New Testament there is a passage about the “priesthood of all believers.”  This is an area where Protestants grumble at Catholics. Whereas Catholics have priests in place for people to confess their sins, Protestants are adamant that we can serve as our own priests to go before God.  But I still think many Christians cut themselves a bit short in this realm. We believe we can enter the holy of holies, sure….but we usually crawl in on our hands and knees reminding God of how undeserving and wretched we are.   I think this is exactly what we shouldn’t do.  The holy of holies is the very deepest part of ourselves that is connected with all things, all creation, and the Divine. This is the place of original blessing that Matthew Fox speaks about (no, not the Party of Five guy). This is where real prayer and real connection with God happens.


If the Vine is within us, and Blessing is within us, then it makes no sense to hang our entire lives on what other people think. Of course, there is nothing wrong with mentors and good advisors – they can help point out when we’re being driven by our egos and fear. But I’m convinced the more we start learning to separate the voices of our true and false selves, the more authentic we become and the more we can trust our decisions.

No more frantically running around trying to find the best book to tell us what to do.  No more making decisions after consulting a billion people so that if the decisions turns out to be a bad one, we can blame it on them. No more questioning our value and worth. No more feeling like we have to fit in with society or tow the party line.

The best part of all of this is: being able to hear and thank people for their opinions and advice, and then calmly being able to decide whether or not it resonates with you.  After all – you are connected directly to the Divine. You are connected directly to your eternal self. As such, you know yourself better than anyone, and ultimately, know better than anyone what is best for you.

Walking the Labyrinth

I walk in the circle of destiny

Winding road of twisting uncertainty

I start along this journey

Praying there is something waiting for me

Anxiety fades the lines; unclear beneath my feet

Unpredictable the turns; leaving no easy retreat

The road is one well traveled

Yet so much misunderstood

Why do I walk this lonely path looking for the one and only cure?

The crunch of sand beneath my feet, the deafening echo of progress

The rising moon over the tree breeds the light which lends to focus

Around the twisting turns, where control slips through my hands

I look up to the rising Goddess and continue to walk on the sand

I turn the familiar corner and look to the prize that awaits

Walking forward to the center, the conclusion of my pending fate

The reason I walk in the shadows, the reason I step through fear

In the center of this journey inward, suddenly it becomes so clear

I am the cure,

The answer is within my soul

One foot in front of the other,

The center was always the goal

The light of the moon looms above me and my feet are solid on the ground

For the power I was afraid to find, had already been found

I am the one I seek; I am the one I fear

In mirrors I see myself; in the labyrinth it becomes so clear

— Crystal Blanton

I Won’t Eat Animals But I Still Can’t Let Go of Lab Rats


ear mouse

I have some major cognitive dissonance going on in my brain.  It’s been there for quite a while, actually.  As I’ve gotten older and really tried to learn to look at both sides of every story, I’ve realized that there isn’t always a pat solution that will make everyone happy.  There isn’t always a clear path that will ensure justice for each party involved.

This is probably why I like Taoism so much.  Life no longer seems to consist of black and white decisions, or clear right and wrong choices. Taoism, as my Western mind understands it, says there are two sides to every coin and life must exist in a balance. As Alan Watts has written, “Seen as a whole the universe is a harmony or symbiosis of patterns which cannot exist without each other.”

I have two primary struggles with what balance should look like in life right now.  The first is the balancing act of conservation and walking lightly on the earth versus the amazing benefits plastics and single-use medical devices have given us, and the fact that the latter have led to landfills and plastic-filled bellies of fish and birds.  I’ll talk about that one a different day. The one on my mind today is how on one hand I refuse to eat animals anymore, but I value and am so grateful for the tremendous medical advances we’ve seen because of drug and behavioral testing performed on animals.

I feel like quite a hypocrite, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I gave up eating meat about four years ago, and with it I have worked hard to be as non-violent as possible with my life. I instruct my kids not to killbugs just because they can.  I refuse to set out mouse poison or traps anymore.  A couple of days ago I accidentally smear-killed a bug on my computer screen when I simply meant to flick it away….and I felt a twinge of guilt for flippantly ending a life that was only days long to begin with.


But on the other hand, I cannot deny that the sacrificial lives of so many mice, rodents, fruit flies, and pigs have led to the most incredible medical breakthroughs. (I should clarify here that I’m NOT talking about cosmetics testing on animals). In the last decade or so, a novel method in genetic engineering called CRISPR has been developed and has gone gangbusters in the biotech world. It is a method for editing harmful pieces of DNA sequence in genes associated with diseases. This technology is offering new hope for devastating diseases like Huntington’s, hemophilia, and malaria, just to name a few. But at the very heart of CRISPR and other gene therapies and almost all newly developed pharmaceuticals, there are countless animals who have suffered and given their lives. Their lives were taken so we could know when something was safe enough to try on a human.


You may be thinking I’m nuts.  They’re just mice. Or, they’re just fruit flies, they don’t mean anything. I used to feel this way. But now, when I see that we are all interconnected, that all of us came from the same stardust, I can’t help but wonder what gives us the right to cage and experiment on other beings.

I don’t have a solution to my dilemma, but I’m beginning to feel very strongly that just like indigenous peoples would pay respect to animals that gave up their lives to be food, so we in the medical and science communities should pay serious respect to all of the critters in creation who have suffered that we might not have to.


That just like patients are made aware when someone has donated blood or organs to them, they should be made aware of these other sacrifices made for them.

That when we do ridiculous yet groundbreaking feats like growing human ears on the back of mice, we offer thanks in humility.

That when we clone animals without completely understanding how they will live and age and die, that we still call their lives valuable.

That when our lives improve because of medical and drug treatments, we remember to not only be grateful for scientists and health care providers but also the animals those treatments were first tested on.

I don’t know if there is any harmony at all in the way we are striving so hard to stay alive and free of disease at the expense of other sentient beings. Is it possible to find some sort of balance in this?  I don’t really have any answers other than that I don’t believe at all that creation was simply handed to humans to do whatever they want with. And maybe this is all a part of the journey to increased consciousness. Maybe this is a struggle we must go through to reach the next planes.  Or, maybe there is no ultimate solution, no ultimate way to be.  Maybe the whole point is to be grateful, and humble, and to recognize on a daily basis that life is not all about us.