It’s my birthday, and I’ll blog if I want to.
This weekend, I destroyed some history. And it felt pretty good.
Heresy, I know, given that the whole point of this blog is preserving history — or, at least, using it as a jumping-off point for essays and commentary. But my grandpa didn’t save everything that passed through his hands, and neither will I.
My wife and I were both in the newspaper business for a bunch of years, and we have a couple boxes of old papers sitting in the basement.
I got the itch to clean out my clips, knowing I’d saved a bunch of stories that seemed important to me in 1999 but didn’t matter now.
So I went through and weeded out a good-sized stack of papers whose contents are not worth the space they take up in my basement. And now they’re headed out to the garage, where I will use them to fire up my chimney starter whenever I feel like grilling.
There are stories in this stack I wrote about bank heists, and Special Town Meetings, and wildfires on the Appalachian Trail (still the only time I’ve ever been on the trail), and the relative popularity of lamb vs. ham for Easter dinner, and sewage (I wrote a lot of stories about sewers and sewage in Massachusetts), and piping plover nests, and dozens of other topics.
Can’t say I remembered writing every single one, but cumulatively, they took me back 10 or 15 years.
I suppose that my future grandchildren or great-grandchildren might be interested in reading the stories I wrote as a view into my life and times, just as I find it interesting to look at my grandpa’s calendars. (Someone might first have to explain to my descendants what a “newspaper” was.)
But I’m not gonna hoard things for posterity. If you save everything you touch or produce, then some future generation won’t be able to move or breathe under the weight of all the stuff they’ve been handed down.
Plus, it pains me to admit that a lot of my writing was either deadly boring, or self-consciously clever — and, to paraphrase Ed Brennen, there’s nothing older than yesterday’s clever.
Consider this lede, from a 1998 story about increased competition in the microbrew business:
“There’s a battle brewing on the shelves of your local package store, and only the stout will survive.”
And then there was a weekly column I used to write about commercial real estate transactions. I got so insanely bored with it that I used to write it in a different style every week. Once it was in haiku; another week it was a Papa Hemingway pastiche; another week it was Dashiell Hammett. (“She was a blonde, the kind of blonde I thought only existed in architectural renderings.”)
Amused me no end at the time. But a decade-plus later, all I can think about are the readers who had to wade through my sophomoric jive to get the information they wanted … and the ones who got tired of the effort and tuned me out altogether.
I’ve still got a few stories saved that were especially significant, or that made me smile. But most of my old clips, even to a history buff like me, are best used to get my grill going.
The text for last night’s barbecue was the Aug. 9, 1995, issue of the Duxbury, Mass., Reporter.
The lead story had something to do with a townwide open space committee. (In small towns, actual summertime news is harder to find than beachfront parking spaces.)
Holding a glass of Bethlehem’s finest bitter, I toasted my memories from that long-ago summer as part of them went up in smoke.
We destroy ourselves in order to live and thrive.
The burgers were delicious.