I’ve had a hope chest since I was 16. Traditionally, a hope chest is where a woman keeps all the items she will take into adulthood or, more specifically, marriage. In the hope chest you keep your wedding dress, your measuring cups, your good jewelry, your mixing bowls. (We women – always mixing and measuring and looking good while doing it.)
I did the exact opposite with mine. In my hope chest I stored relics of my childhood – favorite toys, old journals, keepsakes from birthday parties, dried flowers, a cassette tape of the Beaches soundtrack I listened to on repeat for many years, handmade clothing, letters from camp, Valentines from second grade, plastic jewelry a certain boy gave me in elementary school. Collecting memories of the past was my way of preparing for the future (and my way of rebelling against the anti-feminist idea the hope chest represented to me.)
I’m starting to realize that maybe this wasn’t the best way to rebel.
Collections grow. Suddenly, everything becomes precious.
And if there’s one thing that is drilled into me more and more in writing classes and books and any advice given by any writer EVER: Don’t be so damn precious with your work. Be willing to kill your babies (metaphorically of course). Cut and reshape until you get to the real story.
I certainly have my problems doing this – I think every writer does. But the preciousness extends further – I guard my works sometimes like its the meaning to my whole life, like it has to be perfect before it goes out into the world, it has to be perfect as I put it on the page or it’s not worth anything. So fucking precious.
I hold on to jobs. I can be unhappy and unfulfilled in a job, but if I’ve invested any amount of my time in that position, it becomes hard to leave. I’m holding onto it as a relic before it’s even part of the past – which makes it harder to move forward.
I hold on to places. Moving last month was a problem – I was attached to my old apartment. Even though it was tiny, with gross carpet and no insulation. I had lived two years of my life there, so it was precious.
I hold on to people – but perhaps that’s the only thing worth hanging onto.
Generally, I just get too damn attached – and sometimes that keeps me in place, going no where at all.
This past March, I visited Tombstone, AZ for the first time. Tombstone is one of the relics of the old West that has been built up in my head over the years – maybe because I always thought Val Kilmer made a dreamy Doc Holliday in an otherwise terrible movie – and visiting it left a weird feeling in me. It was half museum, half sad carnival, keeping the past precious but twisting it into a low-budget amusement park full of empty storefronts and dusty photographs of prostitutes.
Contrast that to what I had seen earlier that day – the Kartchner Caverns – an example of something full of history, something that has been around for aeons, but is still very much alive, still building on top of its already beautiful past. It’s still growing and changing and letting parts of it die off when its time, only to begin creating new pieces of itself.
So, what am I getting at.
Remembering where you’ve been is important, and you should do whatever you can to keep those memories alive. However. There’s a point when the memories fill up your hope chest so much there’s no room for the future. It’s good to be grateful for what you have now, in this moment, but being able to let those things go, to let parts of you die off while new pieces of you begin to grow is the only way you’re going to get anywhere.
It’s good to want perfection in your work (whether it be writing or painting or whatever) but nothing will ever evolve into perfection by hiding in a drawer.
I want to be the Kartchner Caverns. I never want to be Tombstone.
I think it’s time to begin a new hope chest, one that builds towards new dreams rather than builds glass cases around the past.
Life is precious. But it’s not a museum yet. Your work, your breath, your hopes are not on display- they are the little devils that write on the walls and dirty it all up.