A thousand years ago, I was a college freshman. Being a college freshman doesn’t really differ from one locale to the next, although living in the South comes with unexpected…guests. Roaches. They love to swarm to humid dorms. And college freshmen aren’t exactly known for their impeccable cleanliness (except for my roommate and I who were so fastidious that monks would weep).
Anyway. There came a time when the room began to smell…off.
Was it me? No. Was it my roommate? Didn’t know her well enough to ask. Was it the asian food my mom shipped me? No no no.
I couldn’t track the scent until one afternoon. Thirsty, I reached for the water filter in the fridge. Then, I reached for a mug on my desk that I hadn’t used in awhile. And there I saw it. A behemoth of a roach. I SCREAMED. I wept irrationally. I clutched my throat (not because I had drank corpse-roach-water but because the THOUGHT terrified me). I ran into the hall and chucked the mug against the wall where it shattered and kerplopped into the trashcan.
(there’s a point to this story, I swear)
Afterwards — distraught! cold! (damn the fanatical a/c)! and thirsty! (like HELL I’m drinking out of a cup for the rest of the year)—I called Father. I was expecting the conversation to go like this:
“There, there, poor child. We shall hire an armed guard to stand vigil outside your dorm and he will shoot roaches on sight.”
Instead, it went like this:
“YOU THREW AWAY THE MUG?! Why?? It’s a perfectly good mug!”
OF COURSE I THREW AWAY THE MUG, FATHER, IT CARRIED THE PLAGUE. IT CARRIED A VESSEL FOR EVILE MOSTE FOULE.
I was thinking about this exchange the other day while poking at a short story. Over time, like a mug unrinsed and waiting, the short story had gathered unexpected guests. A character I quickly decided was “evile moste foule.” An atmosphere not unlike the rank, suspicious smell of hidden roach carcass. And the more I prodded at the thing, I discovered the behemoth beast itself: Me.
Sometimes you get to a point when revisiting an old project where you realize that you have outgrown the idea. It’s a useless expenditure of energy now. Much like rinsing, bleaching, sticking in a thermal oven and dousing in acid a mug that you weren’t that thrilled about anyway. Sometimes I see writers who are so dedicated that they will never abandon a project. They will not shatter the mug.
Sometimes, I think, that’s a wonderful trait. But I do think we should acknowledge that some things cost more than they’re worth. It’s not always weakness to leave a project mid-sentence. It’s not always “laziness” (hmpf!) to shatter a mug when its contents are grotesque. It’s not always best to rework and revise and repolish something that’s lost meaning to you.
But you can always make that call for yourself.
Or sometimes a roach will do that for you.