Dreck and Melodrama

A photo of me at Bandelier National Monument this last weekend. The cliff dwellings are particularly fun to see, since you can climb up into them.

It’s interesting to sit in these caves and imagine being the person who lived and loved there. The life expectancy of the Ancient Peublo People (we are not to say “Anasazi” anymore, for those who know that term, because it’s not PC. Who knew??) who lived in this canyon was an average of 35 years. Being a good ten years older than that gave me a bit of pause.

We have such a luxury of time in our lives today.

Yesterday I posted about becoming a better writer and Ann Patchett’s analogy of cleaning the pipes. A corollary to this way of thinking, that only occurred to me later in the day, is that those early works just may never be any good. Those “searing works of unendurable melodrama” that we have to clear out of our systems may have to stay in the sludge heap of hazardous waste. Some stuff is so toxic, or just plain irredeemable, that it can’ t be purified, even by dint of repeated revisions.

I’ve worked with wastewater treatment plants – believe me, I know.

Not everything makes it into the effluent. A whole lot of stuff has to be picked out and discarded.

None of us really wants to face this possibility, that the novel we slaved over might, well, stink. Because we devoted so much time to it we believe on a fundamental level that the time invested automatically gives the thing value. It does, but not in the readers-are-going-to-gobble-this-up way. Instead it might be in the Okay-good-thing-that’s-out-of-my-system way. Sometimes the value is all in learning to be able t set something aside.

We hate this because it’s tempting to view the time as wasted. If we can’t sell the product, then we squandered the effort. This kind of thinking is never accurate. Knowing what not to do can be more informative than accidentally hitting gold.

And as for time? We have such a bounty of it.

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