Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heaviness and the Power of the Paper Shredder

Beatrix is napping and I grabbed the chance to clean out a little more from the box I'm working through. I have a lot of spiral notebooks, legal pads, and loose-leaf notebook paper. Throughout most of my life, I have kept a notebook handy (like in my nightstand) where I can journal or do creative writing when the inspiration hits me. The result is usually a lot of angry emotional ranting and some halfway decent starts to short stories. I keep everything I write. Whatever the quality of the writing, I have this unshakable tendency to consider it sacred because it sprang from my pen, my mind.

I did a lot of such writing directly after college in what I consider to be the most difficult time of my life, just after my dad died. This was an extremely volatile time for me emotionally, not only because of the obvious grieving, but because I made terrible choices about how to cope which included a lot of partying and chasing after boys that didn't deserve to be chased after. In the middle of all of this were two central people: my roommate/best friend at the time and Thom (now husband). Both of them were agents for emotional angst.

Believe it or not, Thom and I had a few setbacks before we finally settled into the blissfully happy couple that we are today. (Joking, but not really.) The start of our relationship was kind of rocky with a lot of "does he like me? doesn't he like me?" happening on my side of things. The difficulty of the whole situation was compounded by loyalty to my roommate who was also going through a hard time of life.

I wrote frustrated pages about giving up on Thom, feeling humiliated and tired of trying. I wrote gushy pages about why Thom was the best thing to ever happen to me. I wrote heartbreaking pages on the deterioration of my relationship with my roommate. I wrote hopeful pages on my resolve to love better.

I have always been particularly reluctant to throw out any of my writing from this era because of its emotional significance to me. It was the most dramatic time of my life and therefore the most likely to make a good story someday, or screenplay. (Joking, but not really.) In fact, the subjects of these same pages are the stuff upon which my aforementioned NaNoWriMo novel was based. The writing is extremely raw and vulnerable and revealing; it really captures the severe highs and lows I was experiencing back then. Unfortunately, it does this so well that whenever I stumble upon pages like these, and read them as I am typically drawn to do, I feel the full weight of the old struggles again. It usually leaves me somewhat nauseous.

This is because not everything from those days ended well. Thom and I ended well, but everyone else has a stain on them now, an incredible blemish, marred and blackened by hurtful actions - some unnecessary, some unavoidable. Most of those relationships were shattered and left in pieces in my memory.

I am not even close to letting go of all of the hurt and fear and regret of those days. Those memories are, hands-down, the ones which beat me up the most. I have sought forgiveness and attempted to right what was wrong on several occasions. I have no doubt that God forgives; I am not as optimistic about the willingness of the people I've hurt to do so. Usually, I just end up regretting my attempts to fix things - I can't seem to stop tripping over myself.

But though I have a ways to go before all of this is behind me, today marks a very significant step forward: I decided to get rid of any of the pages that were negative, either sad, angsty, or angry. I have kept only the happy ones - the ones where I discovered I was in love, the ones where I could see God working despite the disasters around me, the ones where I spoke of hope for the future. Perhaps I'm just the tiniest bit closer to no longer condemning myself for my past life. I am free, in some small way; throwing them out means I no longer need those hurtful memories to define me. I will not wear them as a burden or as a badge of honor.

I ripped out the guilty pages from their spirals with enthusiasm, the edges left jagged. And to cap it off, into the shredder they went, their poisonous words gobbled up to be read and digested no more! Hallelujah! Now let's just hope there is no one digging through the dumpster outside with some scotch tape, an aptitude for jigsaw puzzles, and lots of time on his hands.


  1. First, this post is extremely well-written. And emotionally, in your ripping and shredding, it feels like you're on to something huge. I think some people might argue against destroying the bad and keeping only the good; I'm thinking of when I worked at HOTP and there were magazine articles about how we should scrapbook the hard and 'yucky' stuff of life along with the happy moments. But I really don't think so, 'cause the truth is we don't need to remember the hard stuff, as we wear it constantly like a yoke upon our backs, like a noose around our necks. So I think this is beautiful...and hugely Christian. "My yoke is easy and my burden is light..."

  2. Amy, I found something the other day in reading St. Augustine's Confessions that reminded me of what you wrote:

    "I intend to remind myself of my past foulnesses and carnal corruptions, not because I love them but so that I may love you, my God. It is from love of your love that I make the recollection. The recalling of my wicked ways is bitter in my memory, but I do it so that you may be sweet to me..." (Book II, i(I))

    I think this is really interesting, although I still think that my act of shredding is for the best: I don't think that my recollection acts as a reminder to me of God's love, or of his sweetness; rather, it causes more self-focus, more loathing, more refusal of God's forgiveness and freedom, and (occasionally) I even "love" my foulnesses, as sick as that is.

    On the other hand though, I definitely think it is good to remember your journey (your chains, if you will), in order to acknowledge God's work. I hope I can find that balance.