The other day I burned a huge basket of papers and old journals and unnecessary clutter in the spirit of organizing my study. My writing life. I’m still sorting and trying to file what’s left, a long and kind of interesting process. There was a lot I’d forgotten. There are regrets — several file folders of letters from people I no longer consider friends. And sad moments, or hours really, re-reading letters from friends who’ve died. I thought as I sorted and read that it’s another way of seeing the self, an accumulation of ideas, news of the world, gossip, tales of rejection or triumph (not many of those!), bitter observations (and joyous ones too), and hopes, dreams, plans. And I also thought that an archive like this one reduces the self. Anyone going through my filing cabinet would see the folders containing the business correspondence relative to the books I’ve written, the letters from readers (each one cherished), the folders of rejection letters (maybe I should have burned them but somehow their stern syntax prevented me from even giving them more than a cursory re-read), the contracts with their clauses and subclauses, and a sheaf of reviews. What isn’t there? What was never committed to paper. The dreamy days by the woodstove, working on a quilt. The thinking, and the quality of that thinking. (Somehow I could never keep a regular journal, not after my early twenties, and those ones were so obsessively indulgent, a minute-by-minute pulse taking, a litany of angst.) And the world went by, practically unnoticed, with all its beauty and its difficulty, its shifts and pleasures, while I wondered if anyone would ever love me. What was never committed to paper? The walking, the observing, the deep sense of how my particular corner of the landscape lives and rests (the architecture of trees in winter, the sound of owls in February as they attract one another, the sound of coyotes mating, frogs making their urgent music) and returns to life with the first swellings of the willows, the morning when we wake to hear Swainson’s thrushes.The world going by.What’s known in the mind, the heart, and not on paper.
I think I am justifying the fire because I wonder if it was the right thing to do.
This morning I went out to the garden and saw the small circle of stones with its bed of black ash. A few fragments of paper, a few words left. But when I looked closer, I could see that the words were fragments of lines from a bibliography for a paper written in 1974. We’d been asked in a writing class to explore our influences. I was 19. How did I know my influences? I see from the bibliography that I must have mentioned Jung. (As if.) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Jerome somebody. Maybe Jerome Rothenberg? I must’ve discovered Technicians of the Sacred about that time. If I’d kept a journal of that reading, I’d be interested now. I doubt that I’d have burned those pages.