Today I'm picking up on Peter Morin's blog of yesterday. You should check it out. He is a funny delightful guy who is represented by the same agent as I, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency (http://petemorin.wordpress.com). Pete tells a great story in this posting about cleaning out his parents' house. It got me thinking. What is precious?
I grew up in a household where anything and everything was special- as long as you had a reason for it to be special. By that I mean if it's a tool that will help you with a task, it's special. If it's a plate hand thrown by the potter presented as a gift, it's special. If it's an empty box filled with packing peanuts that just might be of use next year, it's special. If it's the apron hand painted by my four year old daughter, it's special (that one still lives in my drawer used frequently and she's in graduate school now).
On the other hand, I was also raised to let go. "Don't covet. Move on." I moved 11 times (I think I've counted right) before heading off to college. My parents continued to make many more moves, buying and selling houses with an ease that is at the professional level. Opportunities were out there. Exciting and wonderful things to be done. It's infectious. They are certainly not vagabonds, just incredibly brilliant people who always found something more to help them grow, do and learn. They now live in the special family house that has been with us for 102 years (all through the women, I might add).
When do you decide that the precious (the house my parents now live in) cannot be relinquished and when do you remind yourself "Don't covet. Move on." The beautiful glass dining room table my husband and I loved cracked after a cleaning person dropped the vacuum cleaner wand on the edge. I held my breath and then kept saying, "Don't covet. Don't covet." My wonderful Golden Retriever puppy brought me one of my cashmere sweaters. She proudly dropped it in my lap, then spit out a chunk of the sleeve along with the remains of the garment. "Don't covet. Move on."
One of my favorite stories belongs to my grandmother. She was a Bostonian and all that that can sometimes mean. One day when I was about 10 she was folding laundry and chatting with me. As a young woman, probably in her late teens or early twenties, she was given a pair of silk stockings. It was a special gift from her mother. She looked at those stockings every day, folded carefully in tissue paper and kept in her top dresser drawer. Each time an event of importance came around, she thought, "The stockings. I'll wear the stockings." Nope she would think. It's not special enough for these wonderful stockings. A particularly nice man asked for a date. The stockings.. No, it wasn't special enough. Finally there was the moment, the right time, just perfect for the stockings. She took them out of the drawer and there were moth holes throughout. She never wore those stockings.
The words I type that appear before me become a bit like that. The ones that today seem so perfect, so precious, so just right for what I want to say often look stale tomorrow. Do I use them? Is it a waste to cut them? Do I send them to the "out takes" file? Do I just move on? Will I be able to create new ones that will do a better job?
I think I do both. Some of those words deserve to be saved but need elaboration, like pearls added to my outfit for a nice evening out. Some deserve to be forever banished. Some stand just right.
How do you make those decisions? What is precious and speaks to who you are as a writer? How do you make that decision? We are so subject to critiques, commentary and others' opinions it can be a challenge to remember that for you-- precious is your definition.