What You Can Take With You

When you move cross-country, the last box you will pack is your writing box, because it is both the easiest and the hardest to do. It is the only box you clearly label on all sides, just the one word, all caps in crisp Sharpie. You pack all of your composition notebooks, Moleskine notebooks, novelty notebooks you never used but are sure you will someday, once you have words worthy enough to put in them. You pack your high school journals from English classes, the covers taped over with the angstiest photos you could find, in the highest resolution your early-2000’s printer could handle. You can’t really look through them, they are embarrassing and angry, but they come with you because they are a reminder of the beginning, when you actually started calling yourself a writer.

You go through every piece of writing you’ve bothered to print out, separating them into trash and save piles. You never believed in that myth of “save everything” – some of that early writing doesn’t carry the weight to justify taking it with you, and you know now that it served its purpose, its journey ends here. The ones that do make the cut, you hole punch and organize into binders by year: high school stories, college stories, and then early chapters of what would become your novel. Nothing about those early drafts made it into the one you are working on now. There is a century-long gap between the old and new time period, old characters disappeared and replaced with new ones. But those early pages do have your protagonist in them, whispering in the lines, a small fragment of who she would become later on. These pages you look at fondly, thinking of how she grew in time. How you both have grown. You wonder if you both will make it out on the other coast, whether your story will take to new soil or wither in new surroundings.

You take every handout from every writing class, and all of your detailed notes. You take every photocopy of every short story, and you take every book that’s ever been recommended to you on the craft. You take every business card from every conference, every speaker visit, every reading you’ve ever seen in Boston, Newton, Providence. You take bookmarks from every bookstore you have frequented – yes, including the Amazon ones, even though you know they make you a heathen.

Now the box is full, and you think, it’s really such a small thing, because there is so much that you can’t take with you.

You can’t take the community you found in Boston, after searching for years, with you. They stay behind, and as the friends you struggled so hard to make push each other on without you, you start to feel the heartbreak of your decision to not only move far away, but the farthest away. You can’t take Sunday writing dates with your best friend with you. You can’t take the one oversized table at the café where you both spread around all of your notes and outlines, your books-for-fun and your books-for-research; you can’t take the magic that place had on your page count with you. You can’t take the three-hour time difference with you, and the gap that will create on your constant check-ins on each other’s progress. You can’t take the classes with you, or the conferences, or the meet-ups, or the readings.

But you can take the knowledge you learned from the struggle that first time, when you didn’t know where to look. When your bookshelf becomes visible underneath the rubble of boxes, you finally open the one box labeled “Writing” and choose the places the things inside will now live in your new home. You find the reading schedule at Powell’s and make plans to see them in your first month. You find a local writing organization online, and promise yourself at least one class in your first summer as you settle in. You find a conference in your area in August – the Willamette Writer’s Conference – and you register. You even find a friend from college who lives in the area, and you reach out to make writing dates happen once you’ve settled. The one thing you don’t do, this time, is let yourself stagnate. Because for all that you couldn’t take here, there is still so much to find.

4 comments

  1. Loved your post. As someone who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but is downsizing because I have too much stuff, I appreciated your inventory of your writing box and its meaning to you. Good luck on your move and best wishes for you in your new environment, which, I hope, will be a new source of inspiration and support! I look forward to seeing you novel in published form!

  2. Leanna Hamill

    I love this post, even though it made me cry because we won’t be sitting at our huge table on Sundays anymore. And because it is a good reminder to not let myself stagnate either.

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