Monday, July 23, 2007

On throwing out your life

"For the most part, we, who could choose simplicity, choose complication." Anne Morrow Lindbergh from "Gift from The Sea."

JAN: No Feng Shui for me. And after spending two days and filling two trash barrels cleaning out my office, I'm officially rejecting all the de-cluttering advice out there. Sure, I feel better with the clear surface of my desk, and this rare moment in time when I actually know where everything is. But what struck me most about the project was what I couldn't throw out.

Like the aging, yellow clips of my earliest newspaper articles at The News-Tribune in Waltham. The features about a local farmstand, a minor riot in the Latino neighborhood, a bilingual program at the high school. I was 21-years old. No brilliant writing, and surely no clips I would send off as part of a packet to impress a magazine editor. Since they were followed up by more sophisticated articles in more prestigious publications, what is the possible use for them? To prove I was young once? Uninformed?

And those half-baked short stories I'll never return to?? Why can't they go in the bin? And do I really need five copies of two different versions of my very first novel that will never be sold??I have a habit of never quite cutting ties to the past. Is that what this is about? Or do I secretly think that every single poorly written sentence I've ever written is precious? Tell me guys, is this some form of egomania, a hoarding disorder, or are there useless writings or things in your files and closets that you, too, just can't throw out?

HALLIE: It is odd, what we can and can't throw out. Especially true after someone dies--I couldn't throw away my mother's eyeglasses. Bizarre.

My advice is don't throw away those early clippings. Some day you may be moved to create a memory album (would that be pathetic or what?) Looking back shows you how far you've come, something that one looses sight of in the thicket of life. Besides, the minute you throw one of those suckers away you know you'll be looking for it. I mean how much space is it taking up, really?

Who says cutting ties with the past is a good thing?

RO: I don't think it's egomania - unless you're also picking out the spot for the Jan Brogan Library. I don't have many of my old writings and newsclippings since I don't have any. OTOH, the ticket stub from the time the Knicks made it to the Finals? Got it. Any newspaper article that could turn into a storyline or character? In a bulging folder. My wedding dress? Now what the hell I am keeping that for? In a huge box under the bed, keeping the dust bunnies company.

Like Hallie, with her mom's glasses...I have my sister's handbag - phone, tic-tacs, metrocard, loosechange.

All of this stuff's important, and with the possible exception of the wedding dress, why shouldn't I keep them?

JAN: The Jan Brogan Library, You know Ro, I hadn't thought about it before, but.....

HANK: And will you carry all of our books at the JB Library? I like it. Anyway. Come visit and we'll talk about saving things. I have a file for every year called, um, "save." It has clippings, cards, photos. Photos, photos. Funny stuff. Invitations. Cartoons. Ticket stubs. Okay, and you're saying, that sounds organized. And it is. Except for all the other stuff I'm keeping thats not in the files.

The RSVP cards for my wedding. (Both weddings.) Letters from people. (On actual paper.) The scripts from the first radio stories I wrote in 1970. Every column I wrote or edited for Rolling Stone. Emmy programs from the past 25 years. Announcements of my book signings, interviews, fliers. (Maybe 2 or three of each.) My terrible effort at a first novel 15 years ago. (About a golf pro. And I don't play golf.) Test columns I wrote when I was maybe going to be an editorial writer in Atlanta. News releases I wrote for a political campaign, ("With just time for a quick corn dog, Matt headed to the...." I'm NOT kidding.) And let's not even talk about t-shirts with slogans and dates on them. Let's blog about that sometime soon.

But here's the thing. I hardly ever look at any of it. It's just--there. And it's comforting to know it's there. (A pal of mine, an author, came home to see her house burned to the ground a few years ago. Can you imagine? It makes my stomach hurt, even now, to think of it. All that remained--a box of her high-school writings and photos. The truly irreplaceable things.)

Is it a reminder, maybe, that I actually did something at some point? Which is bizarre, because it's not like I'm doing nothing now. Is it like our Ozymandias? Some desperate effort to prove we exist and are worthwhile even though someday, someone will just toss it all?
I'm still keeping it.

JAN: Yes, physical confirmation that we are living a life. And maybe just the tiniest touch of whatever human need is at the crux of that hoarding disorder.... Besides, you never know when you're going to go back to that very first novel.

12 comments:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And Jan--or anyone--what do you think is that tiniest bit of the human need? I save, therefore I am?

Rosemary Harris said...

I just noticed, stuck to my bulletin board, yet another thing a tore out of a magazine and felt the need to keep...it's a picture of people on a retro looking amusement park ride with the quote "All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on." Havelock Ellis...Pretty good advice.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh. I used to have a clipping of a roller coaster on my bulletin board, too. I used to it remind me--when you're up, don't be too happy, the only way to go next is down. And when you're down, don't be too sad, the only way to go next is up. Emotional physics.

Jan Brogan said...

Maybe its the deep down knowledge that our time here is short, so we better document and celebrate it. Either that, or it's she-who-has-the-most-stuff wins.

I LOVE that quote Ro. Also Hank's roller coaster philosophy. You need a whole amusement part of that to keep plugging in the writing biz, that's for sure!

GreenMinute said...

I like to think heaven has a bunch of clutter. Wouldn't it be awful if the inner dome of eternity looked something like a dentist's office?

And wasn't the Garden of Eden pretty much gummed up with stuff?

Actually, the clearing out of my own past lives is something I've done a few times and, regretfully, I have always found it beneficial.

Julie, a past girlfriend of mine, died recently. We were students together and kindred spirits for years. And years. She knew me through two marriages.

Her sister called and said she had found a couple boxes of my old letters, photos, artwork under the bed. She asked if I wanted them back.

The hardest thing I have ever done on the spot was to find a kind way of saying No, not really.

I remember Julie quite well. I don't want to remember me beyond what I can carry in my... uh, heart.

Has anyone ever started a memoir? Even just for play? I was wondering if the pieces of scrap from our past would be helpful at all...

GreenMinute said...

I like to think heaven has a bunch of clutter. Wouldn't it be awful if the inner dome of eternity looked something like a dentist's office?

And wasn't the Garden of Eden pretty much gummed up with stuff?

Actually, the clearing out of my own past lives is something I've done a few times and, regretfully, I have always found it VERY beneficial.

Julie, a past girlfriend of mine, died recently. We were students together and kindred spirits for years. And years. She knew me through two marriages.

Her sister called and said she had found a couple boxes of my old letters, photos, artwork under the bed. She asked if I wanted them back.

The hardest thing I have ever done on the spot was to find a kind way of saying No, not really.

I remember Julie quite well and I really don't need ro re-live a me I didn't quite become. I mean, I don't need to remember me beyond what I already carry in my... uh, heart.

Has anyone ever started a memoirs? Even just for fun? I wonder whether the scraps of our past doings would be helpful reference or just get in the way of the mental and emotional trip backwards.

I can see my memoirs beginning: "There was a time I went to school. I don't remember when exactly..."

GreenMinute said...

Ugh. Sorry for the double-post. ##@@!**%!!**##

I am new to blogging and was referred to yours by Nancy Pickard. Hope you don't mind.

Jan Brogan said...

Hey Greenminute,
I LOVE that idea: Heaven full of clutter! I've never started a memoir, but I kept diaries all through my teens and my twenties, which, sadly, provides proof-positive that I was astoundingly self-absorbed. Puts a different spin on parenting my own teens. It also provided material for me to write a memoir-type essay about teenage lying that I really like and will someday find a home for...

Jan said...

P.S.

And welcome!! You can double post with us any time!

GreenMinute said...

I kept diaries all through my teens and my twenties ... "

Fascinating! I never could tell the truth when I started a diary. And, Jan, yes yes yes:

...provided material for me to write a memoir-type essay about teenage lying...

How smart of you! I am very impressed!

Felicia Donovan said...

Enjoyed this post very much. I think writers have enough "mind clutter" going on in their heads most of the time that they can't afford a lot of clutter in their physical space. I know I can't. The pile of unread magazines is both a distraction and a temptation. The prior revisions, well, who knows if they'll ever fetch anything on eBay. The visual "starters" cut out from magazines and photographs will yellow and age and I'll wonder years later what story I had in mind when I cut them out.

Everyone has their own clutter comfort zone. Mine is quite sparse. It keeps my brain calm and contained. The only thing that doesn't seem to jam me up is the pile of unread books beckoning for attention in between writing novels.

Jan Brogan said...

Since I live in my head most of the time, I can walk over a pile of unread magazines and not even see them. But I AM very proud of how clear my desk is since I've detoxed my office. It's almost like someone else works here.