*or, On Keeping the Little Things
I have a bad habit of getting rid of things. Knick knacks. Old projects. Books I haven’t read in years. If I haven’t used or worn something in a while, I find an excuse to donate it, recycle it, or break it down to its more useful parts. If we have one too many of an item in my household, I find an excuse to get rid of the extra, which I tend to perceive as “excess.”
What I’m learning, though, is that sometimes the things I’m trying to get rid of aren’t really an excess and that holding onto them for a little bit longer has a greater purpose.
I had that epiphany at the start of the pandemic last year when all the things I felt were just “too much” came in handy in some way or another to help my family and my neighbors.
As a writer, I have learned this lesson the hard way many times. In trying to fact check an event or name in an essay, I rummage through my files and storage bins only to remember that I threw away the very thing I need because I thought it was taking up space or didn’t have an immediate use. I even apply this throw-it-out approach to little scraps of writing. Most times, these short lines and phrases are saved from erasure because I write them down in my journal. And if they are on a piece of paper, well, sometimes I copy it down in the journal and sometimes they get recycled because I think “This doesn’t matter” or “What am I supposed to do with this.” It’s worse when I open up an old Word document and see two lines sitting alone on a blank space, out of context. I think about them for a moment and when nothing arises, I delete them.
Part of the reason I delete them is because I can’t see the whole picture right away. I reduce these little lines to chaff. This outlook is largely borne out of a misguided idea that I think many of us have been taught over the years, which says writing — “real” writing — has to look a certain way for it to matter. And if I can’t make those ten words become one thousand, then what’s the purpose of keeping them?
But lately, some of my best and favorite personal work has come from little words that grew in number but didn’t quite fill the page. And I’ve recently discovered other writers who have found platforms for those little “throwaway” ideas that ended up carrying a punch. I guess, all that is to say, don’t discount what you have just because you can’t discern its use right away or because it doesn’t look like you think it should. Save it. Hold on to it. And one day, it will give you just what you need.
Onward (again and again),
MAY TBR List
Arid Dreams: Stories (political fiction) by Duanwad Pimwana
Survivor’s Guilt: Photos, Poetry & Prose by Julia Mallory
Goodbye, again: essays, reflections, and illustrations by Jonny Sun
EMBODIED: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology, edited by Wendy and Tyler Chin-Tanner