2016: year of change - teeth (or kill your darlings)

We’re three days into the new year and it’s official: 2016 is officially the year I’m sick of it — sick of doing things the same way; sick of not doing the work I want to be doing; sick of moving so slowly on creative projects; sick of the amount of stuff and paper and wearable, readable, wrappable and boxable past that is clogging the flow of my life and work. So, 2016 is the year of change. I’m cutting and culling and reforming and, I dearly hope, releasing something new and different in the process.

I’m going to start by throwing out my teeth.

When I found them in one of the bathroom drawers I tackled in my culling frenzy, in their little Winnie the Pooh tin, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of savage righteousness of the kind that can make me blurt at volume, ‘See, this is exactly what I’m talking about!’ But immediately afterwards another feeling bled through and I reached out to funny little Pooh and Piglet, best of friends, who had stood guard over my tiny childhood teeth all these years.

It’s this feeling – the one that made me want to hold the little tin tenderly, hear its light rattle and take in all the scrapes in its faded paintwork – that makes it hard to throw anything out. Because what the teeth are now is not the little yellow-white lumps with dried bits on the end that were once part of my mouth, saved by my mother and at some point returned to me, their owner; what they are now is the story of themselves: the time she gave them to me, years later; the tongue-loosening, knocking and pulling of them from my young mouth; all the times I have rediscovered them before; all the things I have written and thought about them.

With those teeth come so much story, so much context and possibility for future stories, that I am almost, in that moment of cradling them, overwhelmed. There is a kind of beauty in that, if beauty could be described as an exquisite moment of intense experience.

But they must go.

I am lucky enough to have all my teeth (less a couple of wisdom teeth) and teeth are teeth: it’s difficult to ask them to do their job elsewhere. And when I looked again at the image of A. A. Milne’s characters (not the Disney versions), I could only take it as a sign.

Pooh and Piglet walking away

Kill your darlings

What I’d experienced, sitting there on the bathroom tiles with Pooh and Piglet hand in hand in front of me, was a creative crisis. I could hold on to my childhood teeth, to write about them, muse about them, and keep adding to their real and potential story. But why? What would it add to my life or my work? They are teeth and they have done their job. I have enjoyed the exquisite moments of rediscovering them in the collection of acquired objects that come to represent a life but they are like the favourite, finely turned poetic phrase that snags the reader in a passage of spare, taut, prose: a darling to be murdered — the stuff of ‘could be’, of dreams. I am sick of the stuff of dreams; I want to keep only the stuff of becoming.