The Things I Left Behind

I’ve plotted out a 3-book arc for my life. Because that’s what writers do.

It’s actually a very good gauge for writing, a test that I use on my students to see which of them has the bug and which of them is simply — to paraphrase what my mentor Bill Drummond said the other day — passing time. We see our lives as one chapter after another in a finite story that will, most unexpectedly but also assuredly, end.

My books: Objects in Reality, Samurais in Austin and The Things I Left Behind.

I’m 50,000 words into the first book, although I haven’t written on it in two years. I’m staring at it right now as it sits, lonely, in a binder. Waiting to be moved. And loved again. Which it will be. Soon.

There’s no sense in hashing out the stories with you now. If you know me, you already know them. Unless, like me, there are some parts you’ve forgotten. Either way, the plots aren’t important. Not to this story.

My life, as I said, is a series of chapters. And when a particular chapter comes to a close, I turn the page and move to the next adventure, the wistful sorrow of the past merely coming along for the nostalgic ride. For linear comparison in the novel of my life. Because what’s a good story without foreshadowing and flashbacks. (Okay, flashbacks in stories usually suck. Go with me for a minute.)

Like the rest of you monkeys, most of the things I left behind were left in the past for good reason. Maybe not reasons I liked. Or even understood. But reasons none the less.

The hardest things to leave behind are the ones that aren’t bad. The things that have to go for unexplainable reasons. Those are the ones that ache and long and sigh.

I was talking with a friend last night about love. Not for each other. Just in general. I don’t think either of us mentioned the word, but that’s what the conversation was about. That feeling that reaches into the parts of your brain, your heart, your body that are otherwise turned off. The dark recesses.

When you get that feeling, it’s hard to let go. Even when it’s bad. Even moreso when it’s good.

But sometimes chapters have to end. The next chapter needs to start. When that page gets turned. When the good chapters come to a close. As a writer, I’m heartbroken. I want to stay in the chapter.

But chapters end. Pages turn. People sometimes go.

If that happens enough times, that good end, little bits and pieces of you float away. Unattended pieces of hope. Of happiness. Of direction. Of meaning.

You don’t notice them gone, though, until the next chapter starts and you find yourself girding. You’re ready for the end of the chapter. Promising that this time you will keep distant. Not too distant, though. Just enough distant.

Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

Until you wake up one day and find that you don’t look forward to those chapters anymore. The good ones. The bad ones. They all end the same way: with an end.

Lest you think I’m waxing melodic about something gone from my life, let me assure that I’m not. I’ve just had the chance to talk to some of my friends in the last few weeks, friends who are hurt or sad about chapters closed and closing. While comforting them, re-assuring them, being a friend to them, it hit me.

A little nugget of myself that I sent as a Tweet. A piece of me that I didn’t know I still had:

of all the shit I regret in my life, I’ll never regret making a fool out of myself for a woman. which, as it turns out, is a good thing

I’ve left much of who I was behind. But I haven’t lost that. The thing that matters most.