Burning My Past

25 Jun

I wrote recently about how, having reached 50, I was planning to throw away quite a bit of stuff I’ve been dragging round with me all my adult life. The point is to declutter as we say these days, but in truth it’s much more of a mental clear out because physically it doesn’t take up that much space.

So this weekend I started and yesterday I burnt most of my University notebooks, sketchbooks and essays, as well as lots of stuff from my subsequent years working as an architect.

As I am an early 21st Century man I posted pictures on Instagram of the burning and mentioned what I had been doing on twitter. Naturally I received mixed responses from supportive to dismay. I think the interesting comment was “That must be cathartic!” because I expected it would be. In fact I think it was mildly cathartic, but only in the sense that I had finally done it. In reality it was oddly comforting and confirmed to me that my motivations for doing this were correct.

What I found, as I thumbed for the last time through page after page of notes and sketches, is that all of this stuff that I thought at the time was important to hang on to, is in fact meaningless and irrelevant. No one else is ever going to look at them and find anything of interest in them. I have carted them around for 10, 20 years and never done more than glance through them. Even I can’t be bothered. So they might as well no longer exist. I watched the flames consume my drawings, my thoughts. Years of them. It was fine, actually.

It made me think about the nature of my education. In architecture, as a student, you go deeply into projects, into your own ideas. Your tutors and fellow students may be briefly interested for various reasons, but they will never approach the depths of your creation. I spent weeks or months on an essay, researching, thinking, for it to be read briefly by a tutor, marked and handed back. That is the end of its life.

Except it’s not, because all of this stuff is what got me to where I am today. The usefulness of the artefacts themselves dwindled to nothing. The important ideas, the critical thinking I still carry with me, into my future. The rest is ashes. And rightly so.



One Response to “Burning My Past”

  1. Catfink1664 June 25, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    This article has come along at just the right time for me, as i’m planning a very similar project in the next few weeks, and am just getting up the courage. If you had been filled with rue and regret, I may have put the long overdue clearout off (again). Thankyou for posting this, it’s put everything clear in my head in just the right way.

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