Today, I went through a five-pound stack of papers that had been occupying my office desk drawer, untouched, for a solid decade. Prior to that, they occupied my life, untouched, since 1991.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching Marie Kondo shows lately, but I had a strong urge to declutter — and to ask whether the things I’ve kept truly “spark joy” as she puts it. Turns out many of them do not.
While pursuing an MFA at George Mason University in Virginia (an awful story), I was made to participate in a “thesis roundtable.” Only, I was a first-year and had no thesis. (Chalk that class assignment up to the infinite wisdom of university administrators.)
Anyway, I assembled 20-odd poems and eventually got my turn in the hot seat. The pile of papers mentioned above was the stack of my marked-up manuscripts I received back from everyone — three decades ago! I’d kept them all this time because I always figured I’d return to those poems and revise them someday, taking the valuable feedback into account.
Flipping through them, though, I found little of much value at all — just the three-decade-old, often rushed, and not always legible reactions of others (zero of whom I knew well then or have kept in touch with). Some offered high praise (sometimes deserved, sometimes not), some offered scathing criticism (also sometimes deserved, sometimes not). Often, the praise and criticism was in response to the same material.
The whole thing — keeping that crap — just seems pathetic to me now, for a number of reasons. First, I know what I know; I’ve learned a thing or two in the three decades since, and I no longer especially want anyone else’s opinions on what or how I write. (I’m not saying I’m perfect, or have nothing left to learn. I just know my preferences much better than I used to and am satisfied with my own internal faculty for judging quality.)
Another way for me to think of it is this: What if I were my dad? I’m 51 years young now. My dad was 51 in 1994. So, my keeping a bunch of papers right now from 1991 is like my dad, in 1994, keeping a bunch of papers from 1965 in his desk drawer. If I were my 1994 self, looking at a situation where my dad had a bunch of old-ass papers from 1965 in his desk drawer, I’d probably think he was nuts. Ergo, I must (and do) think *I* am nuts for keeping these papers.
The bottom line, though, is that I prefer to rewrite on my own terms or, in specific cases, perhaps with thoughts and/or suggestions in mind from only very select people — certainly not the reactions of a room full of strangers. I’m not entirely sure why I allowed them to occupy my personal space for so long. Arguably, there’s a psychology at play there, and I suspect the purging reflects a positive direction.
So, off to the trash, old paperwork! Now, what else can I get rid of?!
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time, and he’d be delighted if you purchased a copy!