Sunday, November 19, 2023

Looking Forward Looking Back

I filled up a recycle bin with stuff this week, a long overdue project that I'd kept putting off until I finally ran out of excuses. The excuses were dumb things like, "I don't feel like doing this," and "What if I change my mind." 

The Stuff was mostly papers. Bins of old manuscript drafts and old files from writing and teaching events. Why have I held onto these things? Okay, the files, because you never know. I might be asked to teach a particular lesson again. (But I have these lesson plans saved on my computer, and the truth is I rarely reuse lessons.) 

Chucking the old manuscript drafts was a harder job. It meant sort of looking at them again as I tossed them. It meant thinking about all of the time spent, the work, the dreams. But guess what, the drafts are all saved on my computer too. And I have all the finished manuscripts, which is enough paper, I've decided. 

As soon as I decided it and began to tear and toss, I quickly cycled through what felt like an accelerated mourning process. Dizziness to depression to acceptance. All of those stories, all of those words, and no one will ever read them. 

But here is another truth: I didn't want to read them. Anyway, I have new stories to tell. When I finished tossing, I was drained, wrung out. But weirdly, I also felt jittery with pent up energy. I paced around the house itching to shed more things. Old books I never plan to read. A stack of old magazines. Whose dumb idea was it to hold onto that? 

Still jittery, I went outside and yanked out dead plants. Raked leaves. Cut the out-of-control ivy. I didn't want to write about this, but all week it has been throbbing in my head. A story in the news about a man, my age, who was out running in a neighborhood not far from mine. Something happened, the authorities still don't know, and he was killed. It turns out that I know the man's wife, and I can't make sense of any of it. The suddenness of the loss. The brutality. How random it is and how heartbreaking. How do you go on after something like that? 

But I know the answer. You just do. I went back inside and cleaned off the kitchen table. I found a box of flower bulbs that I'd meant to plant and forgotten about because they were lost under piles of clutter. All of my gardening and I have never planted spring bulbs. I had to don my reading glasses to decipher the directions on the box. Outside again, and I chose a place, dug my holes and tucked away the bulbs. 

Here is what I know today: the past is gone and there is no guarantee of the future. 

But if all goes well, the flowers will bloom in spring. Big showy purple ones to brighten the yard and bring whoever chances to walk by a moment of joy after the long winter. 

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