Kill Your Darlings

Once upon a time, I wrote most of a book.  I was fueled by the outrage I felt towards my government’s behavior in the early 2000’s.  I had just come of voting age, 7 months too late to vote for Al Gore and furious that we had a chimpanzee in the White House.  I was naïve and yet to be jaded by the country I had been taught to adore.  I focused my frustrations into a pre-apocalyptic tale of friendship and justice that I never titled but always referred to as The Ten.  It was about a group of freedom fighters running a grassroots organization built to topple a dictatorship.  When Obama was elected in ’08, I fell off writing it, as my frustrations dissipated for a time.  I considered picking it back up when “this fuckin’ guy” was elected,  but it seemed practically prophetic at that point.  I knew what I had to do.  I had to kill it.

It’s ironic that the first time I ever killed a character, I did it in The Ten.  His name was Matthew, christened after a childhood friend that I have long since lost, and I loved him.  He was an army vet who had fled and went into hiding after being ordered to kill innocents in cold blood.  He fell in love with a girl named Juliet, who also dies, but Matthew’s death takes place in the first chapter.  He dies in a field in his best friend Jordan’s arms, risking life and limb to cross the NY-Canada border to bring her blueprints for the fall of the enemy.  He is shot at the border, but limps and drags himself to her camp, to save them all.

I didn’t know I would kill Matthew at first.  I wrote the first chapter long after most of the book, when I realized that starting it with a mysterious bleeding man was better than just “Once upon a time…”  I actually mourned Matthew, as I described the other characters reactions to his passing.

Now, I mourn not only Matthew, but the whole book.  It’s never going to work, and I know that.   I’m ok with that.  I moved onto another book, one that is timeless, and thus can never be ruined by the progress of politics.  Still, I think of that as the first truly substantial thing I worked on.  I write poetry all the time, and I have completed a few plays, but I put more hours in on The Ten than anything else (save maybe my current project, should I finish it.)  I loved The Ten.  I wish I could finish it.  I would love to see how these characters that I crafted so particularly brave a new world.  But I guess I’ll never quite know.

I’m not great at killing my work, but I’ve gotten better over the years.  Recently I was compiling old poems and reworking the ones that didn’t suck, and trust me when I tell you it was a low number.  From the hundreds and hundreds of poems on my hard drive, I like roughly ten of them, and that leads me to do a lot of poetic slaughter.

A month or two ago, I deleted my LiveJournal.  I started writing it in 2001, and kept writing in it until 2014.  It was my first blog.  It was my first foray into the internet, really.  I loved it.  I wrote religiously about my life in it.  I painstakingly copied each entry into a word document, and then I deleted it.

Yes, it’s saved for me and only me, and I have been working my way through it trying to see if there is anything salvageable.   So far I’ve picked out a few rants that are useful for my current project, but that’s about it.  Mostly it’s quotes and quizzes and tales about my adventures with my friends.  It is, however, a snapshot of my 20’s, and for that I am pleased I preserved it.  But it couldn’t live forever.

Like Matthew couldn’t live forever, or his lover Juliet, or a million other characters that will eventually die because we all do.  The beauty is that if you don’t kill them off yourself, they can live forever in someone’s mind.  However, sometimes, you have to say goodbye to something.  You have to end something to start something new.  Matthew died to save his friends.  My LiveJournal died to feed my manuscript.  My poems become mulch to create new ones.  Life goes on, even when you’re destroying everything.

grayscale photo of explosion on the beach
Photo by Pixabay on

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