Friday, March 5, 2010

Up in Flames

Yesterday I burned stuff. I'm not supposed to, there's a county ordnance against open fires, but this actually was not open, or unsupervised.

What I did was buy big metal garbage can from Home Depot. I drilled about 50 large holes around the base and voila, a portable incinerator. Cheaper and more thorough than shredding, safer than recycling, spiritually satisfying. And it's hard to steal an identity from ashes.

I burned 20 years' worth of eBay sales records, old birthday cards, letters, utility bills, credit card statements, bad story ideas and worse story development, rough drafts of unpublishable material and other flotsam and jetsam of life. Twenty years went up in smoke in approximately 30 minutes, and come spring I will sprinkle the ashes where I have my tomato plants and green peppers. It was... odd. There are a lot of memories to be found in the collection of paper one accumulates over two decades. Not necessarily good memories, either.

I struggle against being a pack rat, and being a writer I am persuaded that future biographers will need every vestige of information they can find if their Boswellian task is to be realized. So ridding myself of all this documentation was also coming to terms with some harsh realities. I will not be biographed, and the relics of my personal history will not interest anyone. I have no children or grandchildren of my own to pore over the residues of my life, no one to ooh and aah over ancestors pictures, which is just as well. It hasn't been that interesting a life.

I kept the letters I received from my parents, and from a best friend who died long ago. I kept the copies of letters I had sent to my late sister, Florence. She was too sick to write back, so my writings are the only record I have of her life. I kept all the rejection slips of a lifetime of submissions to editors who were not interested. I kept the draft of a novel written 15 years ago and still showing a hint of promise. I kept the drafts of all the songs I've written, even the crappy ones, as well as a few newspaper clippings.

The ancients knew the purifying power of fire. My file cabinet is 35 pound lighter and rejuvenated.

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