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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To File or Not to File

Posted by Fran McDowell

We just remodeled our game room into an office/TV room. Partly because we need to convert the former upstairs “office” space into “crib for first grandchild space”. (Yeah!) And partly because my husband is semi-retired and can work from home occasionally so we can work in the same, bigger, room together now and then (Yeah! . . . I think. I’m pretty sure).    
Anyway, in the process of transferring insurance files, bill folders, financing paperwork, old manuscripts, I’ve forced myself to go through it all, determined not to move things we no longer need. It’s been easy with most of the stuff, fun actually, a real trip down memory lane. 
“Hey, Babe,” I call out. “See if you can remember the street address of the house on Seneca Drive,” or,  “Oh my gosh, I forgot we ever owned this car,” or, “How many gas grills does one family need in a life time for Pete’s sake?”
I've fared pretty well, crumpling and tossing to beat the band. We’re using our old bank statements as campfire kindling since we now get our newspaper on line. I’ve chucked and shredded, feeling lighter by the fistfull, and strangely younger, like our past is now much shorter than before. 
But nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. So, as I knew would eventually happen, all that is left before me are manuscripts, lots and lots of them. Some going back fifty years (well, one actually, that I wrote secretly at my desk during seventh-grade English when I was supposed to be diagramming sentences). But these manuscripts, they pose a real dilemma. I’m finding I can’t toss, shred or burn them, even the laughably bad ones.  Even the ones I read an excerpt out loud from and end with, “Geez, Babe, can you believe I wrote that and actually kept writing?” 
Babe says, “Just file them away. Who cares if they hang in a folder for another twenty years.” 
But I’m pretty sure I know what will happen one day, (it better, or something has gone terribly wrong). Our kids will end up having to go through all our stuff. When they come to these darn manuscripts they won’t know what to do with them, either. They’ll feel guilty as hell throwing them away. I know, since I’ve been slowly relinquishing bits and pieces of my parents' lives over the last three years.
Babe appears at the doorway and looks down at me, an island in a sea of printed pages. “Or maybe,” he says, “you might try to actually sell one of them.”
Gee, that’s a novel idea. But that means I have to put aside the one I’m supposed to be rewriting and the one that’s half finished, and stop thinking about the one I really want to write.
“It’s more complicated than that,” I say. 
“Can’t help you there.” And he leaves me alone with my quandary. 
Maybe I don’t need to make this decision today. Maybe I just need to get on with bigger, more important tasks like pulling the old crib out of the crawlspace and getting it ready for our new little grandson. 
That’s it then. Decision made. I bounce the edges of each stack against the floor, match them up with their corresponding folder, then rest my back against the wall and rejoin Emily and Rudy as the flood waters rise outside their doors.    


  1. First, scan the mss and preserve on a disk, for safety (against that rising flood, or other disasters).
    Then save the originals for now, and keep writing. Because someday some university library is going to ask to store your papers in its distinguished writers archives.
    But before that can happen, you need to finish the story you really want to write. . . .

    Oh, and send your son or son-in-law up to fetch that crib. That's what young muscles are made for.

  2. Whatever you do, Fran, Do Not Toss the Manuscripts. You've put in too much time and hard work, but most importantly, as you've already stated, you'd be tossing a world full of memories you created. Someday, your children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren will enjoy reading them and maybe, just maybe, in case you are no longer around, be able to piece together a picture of what and who you were.