Almost sixty years of living can produce a lot of baggage, especially if everything is too precious or important to throw away. Can I afford to chuck those vinyl records that filled my ears when I was a teenager? Surely some of my old VHS recordings must contain gems that can’t be trashed? However if I take a lesson from writing, then too much information or backstory can bog the tale down, make the reader close the book after a few pages.
I was on schedule to complete my January writing targets and yesterday I finished the first read-through edit of my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel – Wyrm Blood. I just need to print out a hard copy for the next edit in perhaps the summer. February was scheduled for the next edit of the first ‘Gossamer Steel’ book, Wyrm Bait. But then my past caught up with me.
Pre-2000, life was in a downward spiral in terms of property but belongings kept accumulating as my ex-wife and I moved house/flat. In 2000 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and we sold our home, I moved in with my mother shifting the detritus of my life into one room & corridor. When I re-married in 2010 the attempt began to throw the clutter away and thanks to my new wife, much of it was disposed of, or moved into our home IF it could be used. Some remained ready for the final sort out, but annoyingly when you create space like digging in sand it fills up again – mainly with my sister’s junk. On our last visit, it was impossible to get at my stuff, so I gave up.
Then on the 4th December my mother had a fall and went into hospital, then moved into a ‘healing centre’. Yesterday my brother rings up to say she will be home next week and can I clear my old room of the junk at least, in order that the live-in nurse can use the room. Great warning, especially when I’m in a wheelchair, my mother’s flat is up five steps and there’s no room in the corridor for easy access either. Plus I don’t travel at all well.
‘But you could sit outside and tell someone [my wife] what to throw out, when it’s brought out’.
Great idea when it’s cold, I need a toilet regularly, my wife suffers from asthma and a bad knee and hip, plus I know what I really need to keep – the things that add meaning to my life but not the clutter of my past. In addition the pressure of having to go there, deal with the problems = stress = severe MS attacks that my wife has to cope with, not just me.
After editing a few draft novels, I’m learning that you only need the backstory elements that add substance to the characters. Clutter isn’t needed, which means differentiating between information that adds to the characters, and facts that are only needed while drafting the characters in the background notes. Hence there are things, which I know are at my mother’s flat and I value as part of me – like the letters that I wrote from Canada as a teenager. But old clothes, VHS tapes and certainly anything that reminds me of my failed marriage are superfluous to moving on, especially if they carry memories of bad decisions.
I’ve always taken this quote to heart: “I turn over a new leaf every day, …But the blots show through.” Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar, chapter. 11. But unlike Billy Liar, I’ve moved on so the blots have to go. Yes the clutter is my responsibility but then surely my siblings can understand that having a disabled brother is a responsibility too. Or perhaps I’m expecting too much?
I can list the 4 things I need from the past that’s cluttering up that room: 1. my old writing folders; 2. my Lord of the Rings souvenirs; 3. my old letters; and 4. a black cast iron kitten. There are books in the bookshelves but my brother is not worried about them, only my clutter which has been piled in a jumble with my sister’s clutter. Oh she lives in Singapore. Any more and the precious few become clutter in my new life, not backstory. Friday I will be nodding goodbye to the detritus, I suspect.