TAKING OUT MY TRASH
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
What a writer should or should not throw away, that is the question. Dedicated to Humpty Dumpty
“Writing is knowing what to throw away,” is an old cliché. But I seldom throw anything away. If I trust my initial creative instinct, I know I can somehow salvage almost anything I originally produced, no matter how awful or boring it may seem after I have fallen out of love with it, perhaps because I grew tired of it, thought I could do better, or was just in a bad mood.
Would anyone end a marriage or throw a baby away on a fleeting feeling or whim? Many fine manuscripts have been tossed into the fire on a whim much regretted thereafter. I recall rooting around in the garbage on the curb for a manuscript I had deemed worthless the day before, as if my life depended on finding it. Never again, I told myself.
On the other hand, I think a visionary artist, an artist who has a vision of what he wants to represent, should know what to keep and what to throw away. Surely he would agree that, “Sculpting is knowing what to throw away.” He would have an image in mind in the first place. We would not find him scrounging around in the rubble for his Humpty Dumpty, for, as every British school kid used to know very well, Humpty Dumpty can never be put back together again; you have to start from scratch and forge a better cannon to mount on the wall.
Yet here I am trying to patch up and paste together a few paragraphs torn out of another context and pack-ratted away to my miscellanea file because I deemed them mistaken or superfluous to that instant occasion, yet thought they might be good somewhere else. I think I should have thrown them away; the reader may judge by this result. Indeed, I believe I shall start throwing away more of my work, putting it forever out of sight if not out of mind. Maybe I have done too much pack-ratting and backtracking with my whole life, and, in the process, I have avoided that life which always wants something new, always wants the future goods and not the past mistakes.
I once told myself that I trust my creative instinct and keep everything I create. But why should I not trust my destructive instinct, instead, and burn the trash instead of saving it?
My old roomy saved all his junk mail in paper bags in his bedroom just in case; in case of what, I never knew. And now here I am, rummaging through my private garbage can of miscellanea trying to find the life I threw away. I want to salvage the mistakes, rework them, edit them, and then maybe everything will be all right. But chasing after and trying to correct past mistakes is a dangerous process and can be an even bigger mistake. Take the Bush War on Iraq II for example. The outcome may shed some light on my dilemma, and I certainly hope I live long enough to see the light.
I suppose a sculptor should have a form in mind, to begin with, and have available a way to chisel it out of the mass. He begins with the end in mind and has a technique for getting there. There is no question, then, of what to keep and what to throw away. Discipline is required for the painstaking process of reaching a certain end. But that has not been my modus operandi; perhaps that is why I have not produced a great work of art or even a life worth appreciating.
Every production is an essay for me; that is, an essai or ‘trial.’ Only a few come through with flying colors. Many starts are false and more are unfinished. My internal rebel insists on doing what he wants to do at any given moment.
Goal, you say? What goal? The rebel in me lives at random. He just says “no” to goals! I am always cleaning up after him and trying to make something of his mistakes. Take this trash, for instance.