One Box Packed

That makes one box down, hopefully two to go (though probably three).

The ritual of packing is a familiar one, though one I still manage to screw up in the silly ways:  Writing the address on the clear tape instead of under it; overpacking some boxes, underpacking others; those sorts of things that you’d think, by now, I’d have down to a science.

The problem is that I get distracted when I pack.

I don’t own much anymore, after 6 years of unloading possessions and unnecessary ephemera that I accumulate thinking that one day I’ll want to remember this concert or that art exhibit.  Inevitably, I remember it all the way to the trashcan.

Yet, every year, I get to this stage and shake my head at how much stuff I still have to pack.  Thankfully, this year, I don’t need to bring any kitchen materials, so those are being left by the wayside, along with most of my bedroom sheets/blankets and a couple bags worth of clothes that, hopefully, I’ll have the funds to replace.

But there are certain things I never get rid of:  My notebooks.  I imagine by the time I’m moving to NYC, the only possessions I’ll have left will be my notebooks, laptop and clothing.

And just like every year, when it comes time to pack up my pages and pages of scribbles, I can’t help but stop and read them (which is why packing one box took two hours tonight).  Mostly I read the poems to see if there is anything salvageable in the emo or completely unauthentic rubbish I wrote three, five or seven years ago (nope).  But there are also snippets of longform writing in these notebooks, portions of novels or short stories, occasional notes I’ve written over the years as writing prompts.

Most of the stuff I’ve read a half dozen times by now, holding onto it merely because I figure there should remain some documentation of my literary evolution (it’s embarrassing, so let’s hope none of it surfaces until after I kick it).  But tonight I came across something I don’t think I’ve read since I wrote it, seven years ago.

The summer before I started the project by moving to Charlotte with my girlfriend, I moved to D.C. with that same girlfriend.  In one notebook was a dozen or so pages of a journal I kept throughout the first month of that summer.  It’s pretty out of character for me to write about my day to day life, especially back then, so I’m not sure what motivated me to do it.  Though, a reoccurring theme within the pages probably explains it:  Loneliness.

I had moved to D.C. by myself, awaiting my girlfriend’s arrival a couple weeks later, once her semester ended.  The pages are filled with my thoughts on the relationship (strained), my life back home (missed it but didn’t miss it, too) and, of course, how lonely I was being in a big city completely on my own, knowing no one.  How ironic that just a year later I would decide to make that my entire existence.  I must have a short memory.

But the other major topic I kept coming back to in those pages was my legacy as a writer.  I was terrified of turning 42 and looking back and realizing I hadn’t written anything of worth.  I thought that I might get married and lose track of the dream.  The 10 Cities Project wasn’t even a glimmer of an idea at that point, so all I was really concerned with was writing the Great American Novel.  I wanted to be published by 25 (Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise at 24).

Now I’m 28 and unpublished (in any substantial way), and that urgency isn’t there anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, I still want desperately to publish a novel (and I have a completed, edited one I’m sitting on), but I don’t feel the need to be published by a particular age, I don’t feel the need to compete with Fitzgerald.  It’s funny, at 21 I was more worried about running out of time to make my literary impact than I am now, seven years later.

I suppose that’s largely because I’ve reconfigured what I believe my literary legacy to be.  I still very much want to be an acclaimed novelist (why be any other kind?), with my books read in college classrooms.  But I guess I see my literary output more tied into 10 Cities/10 Years now.

Back then, I didn’t have a plan, so all I had to hang my hat on was that elusive dream of being a Literary Star (despite the fact that our culture will probably never produce another Fitzgerald again).  I still want success as a writer, but I’m more concerned with the overall course of my life, and am trusting if I’m true to my pursuit that everything else will fall into place.  That’s not to say I think I can just sit back and let a writing career fall in my lap.  Quite the contrary, everyday I’m actively pursuing that career.  But I’m doing it by living, not by yearning for it in a journal.

I may never achieve literary success.  The naysayers would say the written word is dying.  I don’t buy it for a second, but book publishing is certainly not as robust an industry as it once was.  I am unquestionably fighting an uphill battle.

But I like where I’m at, and I know it’s miles beyond where I was when I wrote that journal in D.C.

So, I guess if nothing else, those notebooks serve as mile markers for the journey.

Plus, it’s good to be reminded once in awhile just how much of a whiny bitch I was back then.

2 thoughts on “One Box Packed

  1. I’m glad you wrote this article. I came, I read it, and came away a little more enlightened about my personal dilemmas about being a writer. It seems age somewhat plays a role in the heart of what we write. Though that’s not to say we should all sit around and get older before writing. Experience definitely counts, too.
    What really interests me in what you’ve said is the idea of ‘making it’… ‘becoming a literary star’ because I always ask myself: what drives me to want that? Love of the craft or desire for dominance? Both?
    I understand this is not a chicken or the egg scenario and that it’s really a “Why write at all?” question. But it’s important to me, maybe other writers, too, to move beyond cursory and/or mercenary motives.

    • Thanks for reading and your thoughts. I imagine the basic reason why we write is because we can’t not write. But beyond that, we all have our reasons, usually a mix of artistic expression and hope for monetary gain. The trick is to have your artistic expression weighted more.

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