Paper on Fire

As dusk approached on Sunday, a fire was started at the party my friends were hosting to celebrate fall. I came laden with a bag full of offerings: cards, letters, notes from college courses, poetry written as a teenager and young adult, drafts of letters never sent, written revelations to myself, random scribblings. How long did I squat next to the fire, feeding it what I no longer need, watching page after page turn from white to brown to black and migrate into ash? Words on paper can vanish so quickly.

As I go through papers and my collection of half and mostly empty notebooks, I am impressed by how many writing projects I have started and never finished. Why is it so difficult to continue working on a writing project until it bears fruit? It’s not like I am the kind of person who generally never finishes what I start. Discipline is also not an issue; I write every day in my journal for at least thirty minutes and have also managed to keep this blog going more or less on a weekly basis. Over time, it has become clear to me that I need writing like I need fresh air and movement and friendship. No, I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer to this question.

Writing = pen + paper + adequate light + a hard surface + idea. A very simple equation. Not only do notebooks multiply in my presence; like groupies, scraps of blank paper congregate around my desk, begging for acknowledgement, quivering in the hope of receiving an autograph, of being entrusted with an important message.

The fire was so intense that for a good hour after I had finished stoking its flames with paper sacrifices, I could still feel its heat on the back of my hands. Bathed in sweat, I felt as if I had just been in a sauna fully clothed. One of the party guests asked cautiously what exactly I had been burning. You look so joyful, he said. Yes, I think my eyes must have twinkled the whole time, reflecting the fire’s gaze as I annihilated written records of my past.

In the end, fall is not just a time of celebrating the harvest; a truly balanced fall involves getting rid of what is no longer required and clearing a space for the future. The fruits all gathered, plants are cut back or removed entirely from the earth. I am tidying up the garden in my mind, preparing for the emptiness of winter. My hope is that by getting rid of enough paper, I will have created enough space so that new projects that materialize can grow to maturity.

All the best in preparing your real or imaginary garden for winter!