Life As It Was

Recently my son needed a three-ring binder for school, and I said, “No need for Staples, I’ve got an office filled with binders of manuscripts ready for the recycling bin.” Out I went, and was drawn to a dusty and neglected corner of my bookshelf where my oldest writings huddled together to share their orphan misery. I should have looked elsewhere. So much easier to toss a six month-old draft of an abandoned novel than some 23 year-old journal-style ramblings. I selected the very oldest, the very dustiest binder in the bunch. The front page read January 20, 1988. I began reading, and immediately regretted it. It is never a good idea to read your own work unless you are in the proper frame of mind. It is too easy to turn to the work, even work written before you were married and had children and started a magazine and wrote a daily column, for some kind of evidence of the straightness of your arrow’s trajectory.

Interestingly, this binder held a collection of short essays I would write to myself on a more or less daily basis. The Bill of 1988 clearly had as much he wanted to share as the Bill of 2011. The Bill of 1988 also loved to write as much as the Bill of 2011, and frankly, in many ways – technically speaking – wrote just as well.

The difference was that the Bill of 1988 did not believe that life as he knew it, as he actually lived it, was worthy of the page. The Bill of 1988 felt life needed to be a little funnier, a little grander, a little bigger to bother sharing with anyone. I needed no more than a paragraph to remember that Bill perfectly well, to feel again what he felt, especially as he rolled a piece of paper into his electric typewriter.

I closed the book and put it back on the shelf and left my office having forgotten why I had gone there in the first place. My wife was cleaning out my son’s room and still needed that binder, and I was going to tell her what I’d found but decided against it. If I told her about it now I would only make a bigger deal of it than it actually was and come away feeling as though I hadn’t been heard. Better to wait until I could tell her what truly happened so she could understand why I had found what I had actually been looking for.

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