Shredded Life

The paper shredder is cooling off.

The operating instructions indicate it will automatically shut off if it becomes overheated. That, according to the instructions, could happen if the shredder is used “continuously beyond the maximum running time.” Granted, I just skimmed the manual, but I can’t find any indication as to what constitutes “the maximum running time.”

That’s OK. I need a break from 1995, the year of my midlife crisis.

I started shredding my journals last night. I made the decision to do so before Christmas, and picked up a cheap shredder at Walmart. However, I put off tackling the task until after my sojourn in California. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t regret disposing of the record I’ve kept, the story of my life that I’ve narrated in my own hand.

I’ve long wondered whether I wanted my children to read them. On one hand, I started keeping a journal after Sara was born because that’s when I became acutely aware of how ignorant I was of my mother’s life. I did not want to leave my children with a similar black hole. If I died before they became adults, I wanted them  to know me.

On the other hand, did I really want my children to know how desperately I longed for love well into my 40s? How foolish I was at times? Did I want them to know how difficult it was to be a single parent? Did I want them to know about those times when my feelings for them were less than warm and fuzzy? Did I want them to see all of my wrong turns and know how ignorant I was in my decision making at pivotal times in my life?

Because I certainly didn’t intend to give the girls access while I lived, the possibility existed that they would find something in my journals which hurt them, and I wouldn’t be there to explain, to apologize, to wrap my arms around them in love. If I have any control at the end, I want  my girls’ last memory of me to be one in which I tell them how much I love them and how proud I’ve been to be their mother. I want them to know that they (and now my grandgirls) have the best part of my life. 

The deciding factor was actually a box of letters I found last fall. I’d kept each one of the letters because it was important to me when I received it. Although I didn’t reread all of them, those I did read were deeply painful, and I found myself wondering why I held on to all of that pain.

Then I wondered how much pain I had carried with me from home to home over the years, and I said to myself, “Enough.” Yes, I made mistakes; I’m human — it happens. I need to let go. Getting rid of my journals seemed to be a good first step.

It’s both a symbollic gesture and practical. If the journals are gone, I can’t go back to them and review what I’ve written. I can’t relive those experiences. Instead, I can allow time to be a healing balm. Since I’m well into the second half of my life, even if I live as long as my dad did, it is time.

That being said, there are experiences I wish had never ended, and they have nothing to do with my girls. They have to do with my aborted art career.

In 1995, I was beginning to break through as an emerging artist. I was part of a dynamic group of incredibly gifted people. As I have been shredding 1995, glancing at a paragraph here and another there, looking at memorabilia I had taped into my journals, I’ve been thinking about them.

If they were still in my life, I wouldn’t be shredding and trashing these journals. I would shredding and creating with them. I would be working on an installation with Jeff or maybe Connie, or exploring ways to incorporate the shredded paper into new works, adapting ideas from Allan or Rick or Ginny or Ron.

I would be preparing a show about women in transition, maybe incorporating photographs of women which I’d manipulated with the help of Francine. Maybe the women’s stories — or poems — would be part of the exhibit, too. I don’t know. I just know I would be doing something and I would be  driven by the idea. It would consume me.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll still do something. Thus far, I’ve only shredded three years. There’s a lot more to do.


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