Throwing Away Words

Claire was a classic pianist and hermit.  A tall elegant woman with high cheekbones who wore jeans, logging boots, old plaid shirts, and suspenders.  A published writer who lived in the woods surrounded by twelve dogs, all drop off’s she’d given a home to.  An extremely intelligent woman who had, back in the 1940’s, her own radio show.  When I knew her she had disdained connections with the world.  No phone, no car in her later years, no family.  I did her weekly grocery shopping, taking bags into a house that was merely a shelter as she spent her time outside.  I grew up wanting to be her, a hermit in the forest, with dogs, music, pen, and paper. 

There’s an old adage that a writer should never throw anything away.  That you never know when a cut paragraph or unfinished story might be needed in a new piece of work.  The other day I found myself overwhelmed by paper.  After all, just how many versions do I need to keep of a particular manuscript?  Obviously not ten.  I decided to keep one draft, plus the final finished piece and toss the rest.  In the midst of this cleansing, I came across a large pile of Claire’s writing.  Drafts of manuscripts before they were published, where she had written notes to herself in faded pencil in the margins.  Stories that she had never published.  Beginnings with no end, scraps of paper with ideas, scraps of paper that were more like journal entries.  Any writer reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about.  How often do we jot things down to save for later, and then see those pieces filter down into the boxes? 

I debated about throwing away the pile.  Claire was gone, I knew I would never do anything with her ideas, and in some pages the writing was so faded it had become ghosts of words.  And yet, I’d always loved her handwriting.  And she had this very wicked humor that was still alive in some of those jotted thoughts.  And finally, I realized, who was left to remember her, to appreciate the lifetime of seeking words, if not me?  And so I kept her pile, repacking the paper along with my melancholy for a woman long loved and still missed.

But with my own papers, I have to admit I did toss a lot.  Not all.  But I noticed that mine were printouts from the computer.  There was nothing personal on them.  Well, of course, those pages are all my words and my voice and my story drafts.  But they miss the human touches of Claire’s papers.  Years from now when my son is overwhelmed by paper and cleaning up after his parents, will he see me in those computer generated papers?  Possibly through my stories, but most definitely not the way I found Claire again. 

Then again, I do have that box of abbreviated ideas, snippets of dialog, observations of people, scraps of unfinished sentences.  I was going to toss it, but maybe I need to keep it after all.  For my son you know.  Really.  That’s the only reason…

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