There are people tucked away in my office filing cabinets.
Ever since I turned fifty, I’ve been reflecting on what I have done with my life through a different lens. The cabinets in my office imply that I have accomplished becoming some kind of hoarder surrounded by towers of my writing that remain unpublished. It would be easy for me to believe that I have no real value in this society because I have nothing to show for my effort—except for all of those words I’ve strung together and stuffed into multiple office storage areas, in Word processing programs, and in blogs etched in cyberspace.
It has come to my attention that I have spent the majority of my life writing. I’ve easily spent over 25 years (the equivalence of 219,000 hours) journaling; letter writing to friends, family, and people guilty of horrible customer service; composing poetry, essays, short stories, and novels; and doing freelance writing for people who hate to write. It’s possible that I’ve actually written more than I have slept in my lifetime. Writing renews my spirit more than sleep does because I can control the nightmares when my eyes are open and words are flowing from my fingers.
What I have done with my adult life appears relatively insignificant—and even ridiculous—at first glance. Affordable personal computers came along in the nick of time, when I was a young adult and had decided I wanted to be a writer. They provide a better storage solution than stacks of cabinets filled with reams of paper containing the output of my creative mind. Without PCs there would be an even more alarming amount of readily visible evidence showing what I’ve been doing with my time.
“Downsizing” is a term that keeps popping into my head a lot now that I’m the recipient of weekly AARP junk mail. I feel like I’m only thirty, but it’s realistic to think that the end of my life is closer than the beginning. I recently wrote my will and had it notarized, just in case the end comes sooner than expected. I didn’t want my children to spend more time than necessary going through probate if my husband and I die suddenly. While I enjoyed dabbling in legal writing, I think the big, formal words involved in creating a will caused me to seriously think about not burdening my kids with my frivolous clutter when I die.
I’ve thought about what it would be like for my daughter and son to go through all of the cabinets of writing I’m hanging onto and being burdened with deciding whether or not each piece of paper is worth saving to share with future grandkids; if they should try to get it published posthumously; or if it should be ceremoniously tossed onto a bonfire of my musings.
Even with the ability to convert all of my writing into digital format and my belief that some of it just isn’t very good, I still can’t seem to part with all of the stuff I’ve previously written by pen and typewriter, or printed from a Word document. They serve as birth certificates indicating when I first gave life to those characters locked away in my cabinets. I would feel like a murderer if I willingly disposed of them. When I walk into my office, my protagonists often engage with me and remind me of all the time we spent together. They, along with my antagonists, reveal where I was emotionally when I created them. The fictional people stacked in my drawers indicate how they helped me gradually evolve into a better person as I worked on developing their character and explored their right to exist—flaws, and all. At second glance, what I have done with my life is valuable. Even as most of my writing sits unpublished, it has served a purpose because I have personally grown even more than my inventory of unpublished work.
Instead of purging the clutter that surrounds me in my office, I have decided to allow the filing cabinets packed with words to co-exist with me. They now remind me how valuable it is to be able to cause myself to develop alongside my own creations. The cabinets have become towers of hope suggesting to me that, as I explore story ideas filled with new heroes and villains, I could continue growing—even though I’m getting old. As my stacks of fiction threaten to fall over on me, they also nudge me closer to setting the contents of my cabinets free. If I can pitch them to agents and willing publishers, there’s a chance that the people in my cabinets can also inspire others to grow. That would be a truly valuable thing to do with whatever amount of life I have left.
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© 2018 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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