We’re downsizing. We’re cramming books, clothes, and kitchen paraphernalia into boxes and bags for multiple trips to Goodwill. Ruthless and unsentimental has been my modus operandi. But then I came to the file cabinet.
I blithely tossed reams of paper into the recycling bin – mostly early drafts of stories. I did feel a pang at chucking those self-conscious, overly written, and earnest bits of narrative. As for the other filed-away relics, it’s been hard to sort out what to keep and what to toss. Ruthless and unsentimental doesn’t work for the miscellaneous chunks of my life stuffed in these hanging folders. TOSS or KEEP is practically an existential dilemma. What would you do with these?
Parenting articles like this one that remind you of your ineptness or cluelessness: Fresh Warnings on the Perils of Piercing – Did I read this before or after younger daughter snuck out to get her navel pierced at age 14? TOSS?
Notes from family meetings 1994, samples from Agenda Item 3 – Issues: When going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, no need to wake up your parents; don’t hit, kick, or punch people; don’t forget to flush the toilet; change your underwear; take a bath at least twice a week. KEEP
Pet rat respiratory treatment bill, followed by pet rat euthanasia bill 2003. (RIP Tiffani, sister of Biffani who preceded her in death, the first of the sibling rats to succumb to lung infection.)
KEEP TOSS KEEP
A story by daughter Ana written when she was five that started like this: Once upon a time there was a mother chicken. She stepped on her eggs and two chicks came out and there was a storm and they got hit by lightning and they died. KEEP
The list of questions I asked Jane Hamilton when I interviewed her for Talking Fiction on KCMU public radio in 1995 when she was on tour for A Map of the World. KEEP
Color illustration of frog anatomy from the Lionel Toy Corporation dissection kit I received for Christmas when I was eleven. How had I kept this all these years?
A graduate school paper I wrote in 1979 called “Dialectal Variation and the Ethnocentric Bias,” which opens like this: Political and economic power has been the determinant of language dominance and status in almost any given situation involving colonizer and colonized. Indigenous cultures frequently were relegated to an inferior state and in their subservient role as a colonized people began to question the value of their own language, the most overt reflector of cultural ideas. I listed the Philippines as an example. The professor gave me an A+, called it a magnificent paper, said I should try to get it published. I never did try. It seemed a farfetched idea – me published. KEEP
Daily daycare report for daughter Natalie when she was three: Natalie heard Anthony and Jonathan talk about what they wanted to be when they grow up (astronaut and fireman) and she said she wanted to be Ernie when she grows up. – As in Bert and Ernie. I love that she wanted to be a Muppet. KEEP KEEP KEEP
A note signed by my husband and children congratulating me on my first ever literary grant award – $7500 from the Seattle Arts Commission in 1997, a heaping serving of support and confidence. KEEP
A copy of a letter I wrote to my father soon after his cancer diagnosis in June 1992 that included these words: Even though you’re my father, there’s lots I don’t know about you. KEEP
Things I jotted down from a Sherman Alexie poetry workshop that reads like a poem:
Have no self-consciousness, no ceremony when you write
Don’t have agendas
Think line by line
Don’t be afraid to destroy your poems over and over again
Be in the business of remodeling KEEP