Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A Spell for Letting Go

A Spell for Letting Go.

Take a thread…
Knot your thread three times three, the witch’s number.  Knot with your intent.
Cut it, then bury it far, as deep as you can, into the earth beneath.  Bury it back to the mother.
There are many spells for letting go…  

This is the opening of one of my stories – a story I love, and believe in.  But there are plenty of others I’ve written over the years that make me think ‘what rubbish!’   So how come they’re still filling up my ‘bottom drawer’, plus the rest of the chest, as well as half the wardrobe, and, and, and…?  Why can’t I just get rid of them?   Why can’t I let them go?

(Photo courtesy of dp-multimedia ©)

I’ve been taking advantage of the dark, wet days of autumn to work on my children’s novel, ready for my first ‘Golden Egg’ workshop in December.  I’ve also been attempting to have a ‘clear out’ of my work-space, which happens to be my bedroom (yes, I know it shouldn’t be, I should have a ‘room of my own’ etc., etc.  But this is how things are.)  I’ve been meaning to do this every winter since moving here, which turns out to be five years ago, now.   Somehow…  And of course, I was supposed to do it before we moved, and the time we moved before that, and that, and that.   But here they still are – box after box of useless short stories, articles from a previous lifetime when I also considered non-fiction, a couple of novels.  Poems, even.  Some are so old that they were written long-hand, then typed up, three copies, with those little Tippex strips for each tiny correction in between.  Those are from the days when I swore I’d never change to a computer.  (Am I a masochist, or what?)

So what’s the problem?  What stays my hand between the bedroom and the recycling bin, or better still the fire, from which there can be no fishing between the cans and plastic to retrieve triumphantly and carry back ‘home’?

It’s all about the fatal mistake of having ‘one last look.’  You tell yourself it will only be a tiny peak, or a quick flick – nothing more.  Then, before you know it, you’re caught – tormented by ‘what ifs’, and ‘maybes’.  ‘The theme of this one is actually quite good.  What if I just change…?’   Or ‘That’s not a bad plot.  Maybe if I…’  And before you know it, they’re back in their folder, waiting for some mythical future when you’ve got the time and inclination to revisit them.

Still, there are some that are beyond hope, beyond repair, no matter how desperately you try to spin them.  So surely there’s no need for you to hang on to them?  Only…  Except…   Suddenly you’re seeing a part of yourself in them.  Sometimes, it’s straight autobiography  (names changed, but little else).  There’s you, as a child, scared of your teacher’s hand-puppet.   That’s the house you used to live in, your bedroom, the garden.   That setting, that character is from when you lived in so-and-so.

With other stories, there’s a muddling of truth and fiction that engages you, forcing you to question what’s real.  Did my grandmother’s lodger really hold my hand?  Did that strange man hug me in the street?   False memories are the stuff of fiction.  Are they the stuff of fiction-writers, too?  These are issues that shouldn’t be thrown away lightly, along with a few faded pages.

Yes, there are plenty with no visible connection to your own past – a foreign location, a different age - but you, the author, are still there.  Your opinions, perhaps;  your beliefs;  your feelings, of course.   If nothing else, your imagination.  Most of all, your imagination.

So your life is visible on every page - your real life, but your writing life as well.  It’s mapped out for you.  How you’ve developed (hopefully!);  your experiments with different styles, different voices.  At what stage you gave up on a particular novel, leading you to question ‘why’?  When you progressed from that portable typewriter to this laptop!

With all this history triggered by a single box-file, is it any wonder, then, that the drawers and cupboards are still overflowing?

But this time, it’s different.  The orange bags are outside, waiting for the bin-men;  the fire’s blazing.  I guess it’s partly an age thing – in the same way as I no longer keep on reading a book I’m not enjoying.  But it’s also because I’m focussed on what I’m doing.  I’ve got a writing plan, you could say.  There’s my children’s novel, and its sequel (!);  my ‘folk tales’, such as the one that opens this piece;  my ‘new’ short-stories;  the idea for a novel that’s waiting in the wings.   I’ve got enough to fill the next few years, without wasting time revisiting the past. 

And, surprisingly enough, it’s a good feeling.  I can view it as another part of my writing progression.  I can even believe I’ve reached the million words, that many experts declare to be necessary for good writing.  I can tell myself ‘tidy space, tidy mind.’

Most of all, there’s an element of catharsis, a satisfaction in finally getting rid of the old, both in life and work, and moving forward.  There’s been no magic spell, but I am definitely feeling the joy of letting go.

And I’ve got myself a few empty drawers into the bargain!