Following my post Thoughts on reading my love letters to my high school girlfriend after 30 years, I’ve gotten closer to getting rid of them. I haven’t, but I’ve gotten nearly as close as I’m willing, though I’m keeping a plan B.
Since my post Less, Please, on getting rid of hundreds of books near the beginning of this blog, about ten years ago — or “putting them back into circulation,” as I put it — I’ve striven to get rid of more material possessions.
The more meaning a thing carries, the harder to get rid of, the more relieving and liberating when gone, but the harder to get rid of. Things I’ve kept a long time feel more valuable. I tend to think what I keep helps define me, like my diplomas or diaries. But what is a diploma? A piece of paper, not the experience, nor what I learned. If I can practice what I learned, what value the piece of paper? If I can’t, what value is it?
Back to the letters, I don’t like to act unilaterally on something that affects others, but my ex-girlfriend hasn’t responded to recent emails. If she declines to participate, that’s her option.
My temporary solution
I collect paper for recycling in a paper bag I got from my building’s recycling bins in the basement. It takes about six months to fill. I put our letters in that bag. Which reminds me, my last two loads of landfill garbage have contained things I’d saved since the 90s and 80s, mostly in boxes I never open. Even taking 16 months to fill a load, I’m partly filling it with old trash from over a generation ago. After getting rid of that past stuff, I’ll fill loads even less.
My upcoming problem: my diaries
In some ways I’m developing the skills to get rid of things. The biggest challenges are the things I created and can’t reproduce. Books are easy, in this sense, because if I miss one I can borrow it from the library or download a copy from Project Gutenberg, often. Letters are harder, or I’ve considered them so for a while, because I wrote them, which I’ve seen as making them valuable to me, and I can’t reconstruct them when gone.
Eventually I’ll have to face the diaries I kept for years, I think starting the year I lived in France, 1990. I wrote in them daily for years, then less often for a while. Eventually I stopped after writing about twenty volumes. I don’t know when I stopped.
For a time I fantasized a future biographer would use them to learn about me. I think I was flattering myself (I loved a scene in Metropolitan mocking such self-flattery). I don’t care about early periods in many famous people’s lives. I also thought I was developing writing skills, but I don’t think they improved them.
I’ve never reread my diaries. I don’t feel like it. I haven’t felt like it since the 90s, when I stopped writing in them. I don’t know if I ever will. I also thought one day I’d fall in love with a woman I knew I’d live with for the rest of my life and I’d share them with her so she’d know more about me. That relationship hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the diaries are contributing to making it less likely by increasing the weight.
Anyway, the old letters will linger in the recycling bag for about six months. I may forget about them and put them in the building’s recycling when the bag fills. I may deliberately choose to recycle them or keep them. Maybe I’ll use the occasion to try contacting her again.
I think most likely I’ll let them recede in my memory and the choice to recycle them will become a semi-conscious part of routine housekeeping — probably what I should have done at first, come to think of it. Anyway, what I did led me to become who I have.
There’s no right or wrong here and either choice has irrevocable aspects.
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