I spent this afternoon ruthlessly clearing out the loft as part of my "spring clean or drown in paperwork" mission. My decision was to throw away anything which I felt would be instantly chucked away if I died. It's actually quite a relief when certain things go in the bin. I threw away all the photocopied scores from the operas I directed in the 1990s and instantly felt five stone lighter for same reason.
I uncovered all sorts of interesting and wonderful things, including an unopened wedding present from my mate Anna De Bruin; a beautiful antique silver tea strainer that she'd handed to me whilst performing The Man In The Straw Hat last year. I put it in a bag for safe keeping and found that bag nestling behind a box of London Requiem CDs!
Some of the discoveries made me happy. Some made me incredibly sad. I found a congratulations card for our wedding from Meriel's Mum, which I instantly displayed on our book shelves. It's funny: when someone's gone in the flesh, they'll often periodically return to light up our memories. A gift. A letter. A Christmas card. Little acts of kindness that can reverberate through decades.
It's very odd looking at personal documents with the benefit of hindsight. I often found myself glancing at a contract and thinking "if only I'd known how that gig was going to turn out..." It can be very difficult to look at things written in a bygone era. I realised today that I've slightly lost the joy-filled, life-affirming optimism which used to separate me from other people. Ten years ago I'd have tried almost anything, hoping - in fact expecting - that things would work out if I worked hard. These days I expect little. It's a funny form of self-protection. I cap the peeks by never believing the hype and the promises and stem the troughs by ignoring the harsh criticism. I live comfortably somewhere in the middle.
But it's paper which sends me over the edge: Old scores, scripts, receipts, bank statements, cardboard boxes... The unopened Christmas cards which remind me how insanely and claustrophobically busy we were at the end of last year. I'm pretty certain the story is the same with every self-employed writer across the country. Everywhere I turn in the house I see little piles of paper, neatly stacked, left where they were dropped after I hauled them up the stairs and rushed to the sanctuary of my sofa. There's a pile by the door. I think it's audition scripts from Brass. I've hitherto tried to kid myself that if I save them I can reuse them for games involving pens and paper. But how many times do people come round to play games involving pens and paper? It makes me feel bad to simply chuck them out, but sometimes you just have to wipe the slate clean.
I need to play more games with pens and paper...
I filled five bin bags with crud and then chucked them all in a recycling centre down at Kentish Town before taking myself out for a jog around the block, the first run I've had in three months. Step one towards reclaiming my sanity! I'm coming back!