John Steinbeck was an arsonist. At least, he shouldn't have set fire to what was supposed to be his Nachlass (German for what was left behind - or should have been.) To the lament of his future fans, like myself, he was always taking old work, early drafts and abandoned projects to a fire outside his house and destroying the evidence. We are so much the poorer for this insecurity of his. So much was lost.
And yet with this same goal in mind, I was recently going through twenty-five years of yellowed papers on my shelf to see what I could jettison. Some of this fusty material, I couldn't even remember having written - what was laid down in blood at the time has now discoloured and turned itself to dusty death. Much of it was read to a writer's group I attended for about a decade, and other people's comments still ring harsh, with much more force than the compliments. I want to build that fire up and throw all of this detritus on its funeral pyre.
It is with some sense of repulsion that a writer (or maybe not all writers, just this one) flips through old sentences, old sentiments, old sermons. The impulse is to toss all of it. After all, I am so much more refined these days, my craft so much better honed, the things that move me so much more urgent. True? I hope so, true. I cringe at my former self. I cringe at my former commentators.
The impulse to wipe the board clean, to erase our footprints in the snow, is probably not a noble one. What future reader wouldn't take the opportunity to compare a very first draft of Of Mice and Men with the published version. Maybe it was better. Sometimes good raw material gets lost through the demands of the publishing process.
So, my dusty drafts and abandoned notions get a stay in their execution. I will simply pile more papers on top of them. There they are and there they'll stay, says the witch. Until the next bend in the Yellow Brick Road. Until next time.