I’ve always been a writer, starting before kindergarten when my mother gave me a pencil and a scrap of paper. Sometimes writing comes easily, when I can sit and spew forever and a day. Other times it would be the ultimate struggle: I knew I should be writing something, anything – but I just couldn’t, for whatever reason. Real life, stress, too many things to do, self doubt, laziness, sickness – you name it, I’ve used it for an excuse.
For the last month or so, I’ve been going through a MASSIVE housecleaning. (This is my current excuse for not writing.) It would have started out a huge undertaking anyway. We have three bedrooms that we never use and 2000 square feet of house that we don’t live in. Add to that 14 years of stuff accumulated by four humans and we are talking major decluttering. Thank goodness I’m not a hoarder like you see on TV. I’d just have to run away from home instead of clean.
The basement was one of my last jobs to tackle because it was the grossest. The attic wasn’t bad – it’s a walk up and dry, and my spare bedrooms aren’t bad because I clean them once a year (or before company comes to call). But the basement…yuck. Kind of damp, very spidery, and home to ancient centipedes. Plus it’s a HUGE mess, bigger than the rest of the house combined. And it’s dusty.
As I’m chucking out toys and enough Christmas accoutrements to open my own store, I found a box of my writing. Two novels that I knew I’d started but never made it past the first hundred typewritten pages. More than a few poems. Some other writing I didn’t recognize as my own, but I’m sure it was mine.
My mother had given me an antique (yes, in 1974 it as an antique) Remington manual typewriter for my high school graduation. She must have thought I was going to make a living with my words (ha ha…). I lugged it around from place to place for ten years, until I got carpal tunnel syndrome and I had no finger strength to press the keys down. When I moved from St. Paul to Detroit, I gave it to my best friend at the time. I retired from typing, but still wrote poetry by hand, mostly to my husband. After the kids came twenty years of writing not much more than notes to teachers.
I’d also unearthed an enormous box of cards and letters from that period. Ah, pre-Internet, when the cheapest form of communication was via US Postal Service. Long distance phone calls were expensive! Trips out of town were too. There were tons of newsy missives from friends and relatives, years and years of back and forth. Many were mundane musings of daily life, sometimes the talk was deep. I found a letter from a truly nasty woman giving me 15 handwritten pages of what a terrible person I was. (I tossed that one, but I did keep some of the others. AND all of my fiction.)
Why did I keep that awful letter? or any of it?
Rereading my past was eye opening. These words brought back memories of myself as a young woman. My novels were mostly narrative (it took me 30 years to write dialogue!) but the voice was sassy and fresh. I’d never thought of myself as sassy and fresh at the time. My friends were interesting and led compelling lives, even though now none of us is where we thought we would be all of those long years ago.
As for me, I’m nearly finished with the Massive Purge of 2017. There might be one last garage sale in the future; I’ve given or thrown away everything else. Also in my future: old characters resurrected and given new life. Story lines I’d forgotten getting another chance. I’m starting right now.
Revive your past. It may pave the way to the future.