On being … an honest effort

By Ingrid Sapona

Last week I was on a culling quest. My goal wasn’t to make room for new stuff – I just wanted to feel that I have more breathing space. I decided to make it a fairly comprehensive cull. So, in addition to my office, I included my closet and my storage locker. I knew it would be a challenge, but I wasn’t prepared for some of the emotions that bubbled up.

I began with my office. I got off to such a terrific start that in short order, my shredder gave out (it was on its last legs). But – if this isn’t a sign that the fates were on my side – Staples had a fantastic shredder on sale. I was back in business in no time. My approach was straightforward: if the project is complete, I’d get rid of all the research, drafts, etc. The tougher call was for projects I think might eventually get resurrected or updated. With those, I basically got rid of things I thought I might have digital copies of.  In the end, I filled four bags with shredding. So what if a stranger looking at my office wouldn’t notice much of a difference!

Next up – my closet. Though I don’t subscribe to the rule about not keeping clothes that are more than two years old (or is it two fashion seasons?), I’m pretty good about not accumulating things I don’t wear. I’m not one of those folks who keeps clothes that are no longer the right size. If something’s too small, I’ve come to terms with the idea that I’ll likely never be that size again. And, if something’s too big (hurray!) -- since I’m doing my damnedest to make sure I won’t be that big size again, out it goes.

Really, there were only a few things that truly gave me pause. These were items that had sentimental value – things like a t-shirt featuring Banderooge, a cartoon strip one of my classmates did throughout our four years at university, and my very first ski sweater. I’ve held on to these for a long time, but I finally came up with a rationalization I could live with for letting them go. I reasoned that if there was a statute of limitations on holding on to clothing, it had to be less than the 35+ years I had these items. That satisfied the lawyer in me, so into the donate pile they went. In the end, my closet effort was more of a clean-up and reorganization than a cull, but that’s ok.

Finally, it was on to the four file boxes from my storage locker that I brought up. My goal was to try to get it down to three. Three of the boxes had receipts, business records, and financial records that relate to taxes. I was sure that I could get rid of some of them because the actual tax statute of limitations had passed. (Of course, before I shredded any, I checked on line to find out how many years of records you have to keep. I ended up being able to shed two years’ worth of records. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to bring the total number of boxes down. But, the three are considerably lighter, at least.

The last box was the one I knew would be the most challenging. It had copies of articles I’d published in different places – newspapers, magazines, journals, etc. In journalism school, we learned that it is important to keep a “clip file” of samples of your work. Of course, these days clips and samples are digital, so the only real value I could ascribe to the stuff in the box was nostalgia. But, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of all of them. So, I came up with a compromise: I kept one copy of each and shredded the duplicates.

But there was more in that box that caught me by surprise. I came across writing samples of a different sort. There was an episode of Freaky Stories -- an animated children’s show – that I sold, a couple of plays I wrote, four sitcom scripts, and a children’s story. Yes – long before On being… I was interested in other genres. The Freaky Stories opportunity came through a comedy writing class. When the instructor told us the producer of Freaky Stories was willing to read our submissions, I jumped at the opportunity. I was thrilled when they bought my episode. (Sadly, my story was never produced.)

There were also file folders of rejection letters from people I had sent those scripts, stories, and plays to. I don’t mind admitting, I soon found myself in tears. A small part of it was feeling the sting of the rejections anew. But that wasn’t all I was feeling. Part of it was surprise at how many rejections there were. You see, all these years I’ve been hard on myself, thinking that I never really put the effort into getting stuff published; that I gave up too easy. But these folders of rejections belie that. Not only that – once I started reading the cover letters I had sent (there were copies of those too) – I began to smile. I was pretty darned creative with my pitches.

I decided to keep that box of documents. After all, its contents are proof that I’m stronger and more resilient than I realize, not to mention that there’s life after rejection. And, the contents helped me realize that, despite the failures, at least I know I’ve put forth an honest effort at getting my work published and produced. In the end, I think that’s about all we can ask of ourselves, don’t you?

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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