This summer when I was back in California my mother put a gun to my head and made me clear the boxes of my crap she hauled from our big family house I last lived in with her to the more senior friendly condominium she now inhabits. I’ve been avoiding this for a very long time hence the need for the gun and the threats of bodily harm. She finally got me to do this by threatening to withhold Cheesecake Factory. I know – my mother is a monster!
So there I was in the garage surrounded by plastic bins of my crap.
Honestly a bonfire would have been the best solution.
Truthfully it was all very bittersweet.
There were letters that spoke of girlish love. Pictures of ex-boyfriends who will always be young and handsome and full of potential in my mind and not the lawyers/doctors/judges/fathers/husbands they would become. Dried flowers of forgotten origin. Ribbons. Theater tickets. Concert tickets. A picture of River Phoenix. Junk for anyone but me.
I binned it all.
I’m not one to dwell in the past.
With the sort of sweeping speed a grocery store checkout clerk scans groceries, item after item passed before my eyes then arced into the trash.
My mother held on to all of this stuff out of fear that if she threw one scrap of it away I’d be gutted.
I’m sort of glad she did hold on to my things so I could have the cathartic release of pitching it all into her mammoth black bin myself.
What she did have that I didn’t expect to find were my old writings.
Only my mother would keep my homework.
In a purple plastic box with a green lid was the cumulative writings of a young Livia.
I spent hours reading through it.
And boy was it all really bad!
I mean just horrendous!
I have people describing their appearances as they stare at their reflection in a mirror. Bad. Really bad. Amateurish and laughable. The sort of stuff produced by a novice writer that truly hasn’t taken the time to learn her craft.
But still there was promise in those lines. Enough promise that one (not both) of my high-school English teachers told me to keep working at it and someday I would be a writer.
The key word being someday. Not that day, but someday.
I remember being offended by that criticism. Young Livia thought she was ready for the big time. I thought it was phenomenal. I thought I was the child Mozart of writing. Had I been able to self-publish back in those days I would have been the first in line. Every word written would have become the Gospel of Me.
But self-publishing wasn’t a thing back during those very important formative years when I was learning the craft of writing. My only option back then was to keep writing and keep writing some more and keep writing just an hour more after that. I couldn’t take the first thing I ever put down and send it out to the world as if it were worthy of being published.
For this I am more grateful than I can accurately express. Someday perhaps I shall hone my craft to the point that I can perform the sort of verbal gymnastics that could put into words the gratitude I feel that those first attempts never made it out of that purple box with the green lid.
If I’d gone out and self-published then I might actually think my best work was the work that was out there for the world to digest and then appropriately regurgitate like a cat hacks up a fur-ball.
There are so many fur-balls out in the world now. There are so many writers that are putting their first efforts out there before they have had time to mellow and mature into their craft. They’re babies toddling along thinking they’re ready to run a marathon.
Back when I wrote my first manuscripts I had critique groups and English professors to give me the sort of feedback new writers today seem to turn to the abused reading public for. No wonder readers cling to name recognition. There is risk in trying someone new. At least with Dan Brown you know what you’re going to get.
The published world is not the place to stretch your wings and learn to fly. It’s not the place to go as you make those first few attempts and fall on your beak.
It’s where you go when you’re ready to soar.