Years ago, when my kids were babies, I took up scrapbooking with my sisters and we enjoyed many a pleasant hour at the dining room table, surrounded by photos and stickers and baby bottles and bags of chips and dip. We were accomplishing at least three things at the same time, four if you count the dip. First of all, we were organizing the massive amounts of pictures we were taking of our kids. Second, we were creating a lovely pastel record of their childhood for their future enjoyment. And third, we were getting in some much-needed adult conversation.
My sisters had gotten a head start on me with this hobby so when the day came that I looked back at that first page I had so lovingly created in my son’s book, they knew before I even said a word that I was going to want to rip it out and start again. “This is horrible!” I said, wondering why I ever thought that drawing little trains running around a newborn’s head was a good idea. TOOT! TOOT! JAKE’S ARRIVED! “I’m going to have to do this over.”
My sisters smiled as they cut and glued. “Oh, you’re not allowed to do it over,” they told me in that all-knowing, well-seasoned scrapbooker’s way. “Everyone hates their first page. Just live with it, Carole.”
I understood in my heart of hearts that my first page was worse than everyone else’s so I tapped on those little trains and said, “But I’m so much better at this now.”
My sisters knew what I was only just beginning to learn; that you should never destroy the road to experience. If you start tearing things up, you’ll have one page in a photo album that’s been redone over and over again and the rest of the book will have to remain blank because you’ve used up all your time.
It’s the same with writing or anything else. I have often thrown up a little in my mouth when rereading my earlier work. I can’t love it anymore because I’ve moved on. I’ve learned more and I’ve lived more. I have an old novel manuscript that I’ve sworn to see in print someday but every time I go back to take another look, I can’t get past the first page. I’m lucky to get past the first paragraph. Even if I never do anything but torment myself with that manuscript, it serves an important purpose. It has value because it’s helped me get to the point where I am today. And that stands true also with the point where I am today. A year from now, my current work might look to me like little hand-drawn trains running around a baby’s baldhead. But that’s progress even so. Right?
In many ways, I’m mostly writing to myself today. I still need to warn myself not to sit too close to the shredder when reviewing old work. I used to pitch stuff willy-nilly. I used to hit DELETE. My writing magazines instruct me to file away every note I’ve ever written to myself on a dirty wrinkled bank envelope. You never know, I might become outrageously famous one day and my grandkids can auction my envelopes at Christy’s. Regardless, it really is all about the journey, isn’t it? When you get right down to it, it’s all Journey and there is no end to learning and evolving until we’re in our graves.
But you know what that means, don’t you? Jake’s girlfriends are going to have themselves a big laugh when they get a load of all those Toots.
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Angry Baby photo available at Decibel Magazine