Monthly Archive: March 2009

Reschooling Tool #20: Ritual Bonfire

I’ve decided that there’s no better way to say goodbye to your past than to commit it to the flames. Ancient cultures like the Celts used bonfires for purification and consecration, and it turns out that knew what they were doing.¬†Tonight I had my first ritual bonfire, and I feel an unexpectedly strong sense of closure.

My sister, Gill, and I are both visiting our parents this week and made a pact to clear the clutter from our childhood bedrooms. Items like clothing and even books weren’t so hard to sort through, but it was the paper clutter that was more challenging to deal with. We each had boxes or drawers full of handwritten notes, term papers, and report cards. Going through these one by one would be time consuming and would bring up old emotions, so we had put off doing it for years. Now was the time.

Late in the evening, Gill and I emerged from our bedrooms with armfuls of papers and stacked them on the living room floor. Gill took a pile of her folded-up junior high notes from friends, skimmed a couple of them, and placed them inside our long-neglected family fireplace. She then struck a match and dropped it on top of the carefully folded pieces of binder paper, watching the paper ignite. The orange flames licked the corners of the pages and curled up the edges. They began to crumble into black ash.

“Ahh, that felt good,” she said. “Your turn.”

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Reschooling Tool #19: Touch the Past and Let it Go

I spent last evening sitting on the living room floor of my childhood home, letting go of hundreds of pages of old letters. This is something that I never thought I could do.

For most of my life, I have been exceptionally sentimental. I suppose it comes with the writer’s temperament, because you’re always collecting experiences to capture in words. And once you write about them, there they stay, preserved forever. Romanticizing and immortalizing the past makes it harder to let go.

Darren‘s mom, Jill, pointed out to me that Catholics may be especially likely to hang onto physical representations of the past. Much of the Catholic ritual centers on sacred objects: the Communion wafer, the priest’s vestments, or relics from the Holy Land. Unlike the Buddhists, whose monks may travel around with only a robe and rice bowl, Catholics bundle up much of their meaning in things. Do the math: Cradle Catholic + romantic writer = memory packrat.

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New City, New Culture, New Life

Darren and me at Bass Pro Shops, like Disneyland for hunting and fishing.

Bass Pro Shops, the perfect union of a hunting and fishing shop, Sam's Club, and Disneyland.

I’ve been thinking lately how crazy it is that my life and environment could change so much within the last year. Nine months ago, I was living with two roommates on a busy street in the San Francisco Mission District. Two months ago, I was living with my folks at my childhood home in Sonoma while I went back to school. Now, I’m living with Darren in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, indefinitely.

Careerwise, I worked much more than full-time for years at Spark running youth programs, then became a student again in the fall during my intense three-month period of reschooling. This spring, I’m trying out freelance writing and seeing if I’m able to work completely on my own time. For now, I’m grateful that my phone stays mostly quiet, and my calendar isn’t booked up with meetings and coffee dates. My fast food and red meat consumption has gone up probably 500% (given that I used to eat hardly any), but so has my amount of exercise and sleep.

The other night, I felt like a real Jackson resident for perhaps the first time. Someone mentioned that the writer Ellen Gilchrist is from Mississippi, and without thinking about it, I felt proud to be a fellow southerner.

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