Anger, confusion, hurt. A racing turmoil of emotions swirled through my mind. I felt tears slipping into my vision preventing me from reading the scrawling handwriting across the crinkled line paper. My fingers contracted slightly, bending the paper so slight creases formed beneath my grip. All I wanted to do was destroy. For a moment my hands trembled as I considered the possibility of ripping the paper. And yet that wasn’t good enough.
I paused for a moment, considering. My mother was gone. I was alone in the house. Without a second thought I walked to the drawer we kept matches in. I pulled out the box, opened it cautiously to peek at the rows and rows of tiny wooden sticks laying peacefully inside. It would only take one. And then the problem would be gone.
I didn’t know where to light it though. I was smart enough to know not to do it in the house. We didn’t have a fireplace besides the electric one. I went outside. I glanced down at the hard sidewalk. It wouldn’t damage the sidewalk but I worried that it might char the surface and in doing so provide evidence to my mother of my pyromaniac tendencies.
I went upstairs and grabbed a plastic lid from a box. I took it out with me and set up my pages upon the lid. I stared down at them for a moment. And for that moment I considered my actions. Once I lit them there was no turning back. I could try to recreate what I had written but it would never be the same no matter how hard I attempted to remember my words.
My fingers moved, fingering a match gently. I stopped thinking and simply acted. A flash of fire ignited in my hand. I allowed the flames to dance over the pages, eating away at the delicate paper. It took me a moment to realize the fire was hot enough to melt the plastic as well. I was irritated, but didn’t care enough to move the pages. They were almost gone.
The paper blackened and curled in on itself. The words disappeared into the flames and though I was satisfied, I did somewhat regret their passing.
Yes, I have literally burned pages of writing before. Yes, I can be that self-critical. Admittedly I think I have only ever used matches once, but I have certainly torn and recycled other works as well.
It may sound a bit odd and over the top, but I am not the first to have done it. In fact I got the idea after learning about a composer who burned many of his works self-critically. The phrase “you’re your own worst critic” takes on a new meaning when considered this way.
Curious to see how many other famous people have burned or destroyed their works I did some internet searching. Wikipedia has an excellent list of works that were lost over the years. Though many have nothing to do with the author it is interesting to see how some were burned or destroyed by the writer himself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_work
How many great works would we have today if they had not been lost? How many could have been kept had an author or composer simply put aside their critical natures? I ponder on that and then consider it in terms of my own burning.
It’s a sad reality that sometimes people are too critical of their own talents. I am happy to report that I have not done anything so drastic recently. However, I still have that old plastic lid. When I reach in my bin to grab something I am forced to again see that part of the past. I rub my fingers over the material warped from heat, examining a few bits of blackened paper still embedded in its surface. Every time I look at that lid I think of what I did. I don’t even remember what I burned. Perhaps it was worthless. But I will never get it back and I will forever have to look back and wonder what might have happened had I not been so critical of my own work. But we can’t change the past. All we can do is look to change the future.