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Burning Pages

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.

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For Good

Wicked is one of my favorite musicals of all time. For further information on my addiction to musicals please see my past blog posts. Regardless one of the parts that always makes me cry is the song “For Good”. The song reflects what happens when we meet people who utterly change us.

For me that person was the girl who would be one of my closest high school friends.

In eighth grade my mother had told me about a girl she thought I would be friends with. We were in the same Girl Scout troop, did orchestra together and apparently both shared an interest in writing and books. At the time I brushed it off, but it wasn’t til later that I valued my mother’s advice.

I don’t remember exactly when it started. I know we were paired up as duet partners. I know we shared a note (mentioned in earlier blog posts) about our writing. I know I wrote her an email one night when I sensed she was hurting. I think that’s one of the great mysteries of friendship. It is very rare that you can define exactly where and when it started. It’s more of a process.

Either way as we developed a friendship based on our novels, I began to start working on my writing with more fervor.

Every day I would come to school ready to share about my latest story ideas or hand over one of the latest sections for reading. I appreciated the encouragement she gave me as well as the small bits of critique.

Sometimes I thought of us as Lewis and Tolkien (and admittedly I was jealous when she popped out a novel before I did even with my years of work). It was not uncommon for similarities to occur in our writing. We would laugh when we both ended up writing about a Jesse, or both ended up with prostitutes as protagonists, or somehow managed to both have similar dashing rescues. I would always just chuckle and remind her that years down the road people would look back and see how much we had affected one another.

My writing drastically changed over our four years of high school. Much of the change can be accounted to the maturity I gained, the new knowledge from classes, but a large part of it also falls on the influence of my friend.

She encouraged me to embrace a darker part of myself. While that part had always been there I had never been willing to recognize it. As I became older and her own writing (usually writing containing deaths and tragedy) became a regular read for me, I started to write a bit more darkly than I had previously.

Suddenly characters were dying. My protagonists were facing suicide, rape, war and other terrors of the larger world. Stories were not nearly as “happy” as they had been before. She did not kill my romantic nature. I retained the idea that a story that brings some piece of hope is the best. However, my developments caused my stories to largely shift. As time passed I gave up my childhood works and moved on towards new goals.

I am thankful for her in so many ways. With her at my side I finished two works and started many more. I received some of my best ideas so far and began to understand more about myself, the world, and writing as a whole. She solidified in me my desire to be an author and placed in me hope for one day getting published.

If you are reading this, my friend, know you have forever changed me and I thank you for it. I wish you the best of luck with your pursuits wherever they may lead you and pray that you will never forget the specialness of your written works. Thanks for changing me for good.

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