Therapy Through Pyromania

I have a habit of going through periods of extreme, massive and sometimes violent change. I don’t, for example, just start a new job or move to a new apartment. Oh, no. That would be too easy. I go, what my friend Gene would call, “balls to the wall” when I shake things up in my life.

Around Christmas a year ago, I got laid off from one job, started a new one, moved from California back to New Orleans, found out that Brian was being deployed to Iraq, went through a number of emotional breakdowns and got engaged… all within a month. This is just how I roll.

OMG, what happened?

OMG, what happened? Where did these rings come from and why am I wearing a blanket with sleeves?

Right now is another one of those times where everything is changing, and I just have to embrace the madness or go mad myself. First step toward sanity: going back home and burning things with my sister. Yep, that’s right. Melia and I have both been moving all over the country, yet we still have boxes and binders and bookcases of old memories left at our parents’ house in Sonoma. Every time I go home, I say I am going to get rid of things I no longer need, but I always find an excuse to put it off to a later visit.

Childhood bedroom

Didn’t get to paint over the hot air balloons this time, but the Sarah McLachlan and Austin Powers posters did come down

Well, it’s finally time. If I’m really going to make the transition into adulthood and marriage, I don’t want to be tied down by pieces of my past I just don’t feel like dealing with.


Signs of progress: cleaning out shelves full of books, photo albums and knickknacks

Melia and I both came home the same week, and we formed a moral support group of two, spending our evenings deciding the fate of stacks of photos and papers and books. I was amazed by what I had kept for the last 10 or 20 years. Why did I hang on to letters that remind me of a time I’d rather forget? Did I really think my high school English paper on “The Kitchen God’s Wife” was worth saving to show my future children? I don’t even like Amy Tan!

High school papers

We decided a ritual bonfire was the right way for us to let go of the past and move forward. We gathered together the bags and bags of papers we wanted to burn (sadly, photos had to be disposed of another way) and lit a match in the fireplace. In went Melia’s identity as a nonprofit workaholic: Rolodexes, curriculum plans, workshop notes. In went my reminders of being a reserved and over-achieving teenager.

Melia letting go

Burn, baby, burn

With every stack, it got a little easier. Notes from my junior high BFFs, angsty teen poetry, senior project writing assignments, college term papers. I watched them all go up in flames, and it was glorious. Let me tell you, there is nothing more freeing than burning your SAT scores.


Anyone who has ever had to write a “dialectical journal” will know the satisfaction I got from burning one

Melia wrote a blog post about our fire, and she captured very eloquently how I felt about our ritual:

Burning the written documentation of your past is much, much more cleansing than dumping it in the recycling bin, or even shredding it. When the flames consume the pages that symbolize your past, your former self and relationships instantly cease to exist. What remains is nothing, and it forces you to relate to people — your best friend from middle school, or your enemy, for that matter — in a completely new way instead of clinging to how things used to be.

I am very different than I was at age 15 or even 20 (thank goodness), and it was a huge relief to erase my old expectations and make a fresh start. The way I celebrate a fresh start is by breaking open a bottle of red wine… and making a new list. Borderline alcoholic, maybe. More-than-slightly nerdy, definitely. But this is a good list, not my normal “holy Christ, I have so much to do and will never finish it all” list. This will be an ongoing fun list…

Fresh Start List #1: A Few Goals for the Near Future

1. Go to Central America and learn Spanish

I love traveling, and it has been far too long since I’ve gone on a down-and-dirty, fit-everything-in-a-backpack, shower-every-now-and-then trip. Summer 2005, to be exact, when Jenna and I took over the Greek Isles. I have always wanted to go to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, you name it. I loved Panama when Brian and I went there on our honeymoon, but I hated not being able to communicate beyond my toddler’s vocabulary of “hello” and “thank you” and “I have hunger.” I want to learn Spanish, and I’m comfortable enough with French now that I’m ready to tackle a new language. This summer, I am determined to go on a Central American extravaganza with my girl Angie. Our plan is to go to language school for a few weeks, then spend another month traveling from country to country on buses full of chickens while practicing our new skillz.

I’m the king of the world!

September 2005: Jenna has a “Titanic” moment on the ferry from Greece to Italy

2. Take the plunge on new projects

I have a million ideas a-brewin’ in my head at any given moment– business ideas, freelance writing ideas, home decorating ideas, costume party ideas– but a lot of them don’t go anywhere. I get so overwhelmed by wanting to do something perfectly that I never actually do it at all. That needs to stop. If I want to try to build a Web site (or a bookcase or a magazine) from scratch, dammit, I need to give it a shot. The worst that could happen is that it won’t be perfect and that I’ll learn something from the process.

3. Do more things every day that make me happy

I consider myself a fairly happy person. Sure, I stress out over things more than I should sometimes, but when I get carried away, I try to take a step back and keep it all in perspective. Lately, though, I’ve been working too much, working out too little and not making time for a lot of activities that make me really happy. Dancing. Cooking. Swimming. Watching movies. Taking pictures. Speaking French. Writing for fun. The best New Year’s resolution I ever made was freshman year of college when I vowed to go dancing at least once a week. I kept it up until the end of the school year (longer than any other resolution I’ve ever made), and I couldn’t have been happier doing it. I’m making a resolution to make more of these resolutions.

Dancing sistas

French Quarter Fest 2008: Dancing in the streets with my sis


1 Monica { 04.02.09 at 10:36 am }

I just thought you should know that you are not the only one with a set of Disney sheets with hot air balloons on them. Mine are still in the hall closet (there isn’t even a twin bed at my parents house then fit on)!

2 Darren { 04.02.09 at 10:40 am }

So if your SAT scores burned for one second for each point, how long would they burn?

3 Gillian { 04.02.09 at 11:17 am }

Monica, it’s embarrassing how many little kid things we still have– Disney comforters, Sesame Street sheets.

Darren they’d burn for about twice as long as yours would. Are you still on this mission after eight years? Dating Melia should have taught you standardized test scores are not important.

4 Melia { 04.02.09 at 11:24 am }

So inspiring. You described perfectly how liberating it was to burn the evidence of the people we used to be. When nothing’s left, everything is possible. :)

I hear you on just jumping into new projects instead of waiting for the right time, or the ability to do them perfectly. If I’d taken that approach, I never would have started playing guitar. It’s amazing what you can teach yourself in a short amount of time.

I kept a list for a while called “100 Days of Happiness.” At the end of each day, I’d write down an activity or two that had made me happy. Laughing with Carol in the parking lot of our swing dance hall. Watching Grey’s and eating homemade nachos with you. The point was to look at the list regularly and commit to doing these things more often. I wrote down maybe 60 items, so it may be time to pick up the list again.

And Darren, now Gill’s SAT scores will forever be a mystery. An unsolved mystery that would stump even the best TV detective. Oh, does that bother you?

5 Heather { 04.02.09 at 12:09 pm }

Amazing. I love it. I want to go home and burn everything right now.

I can see it now, Grant comes how to me throwing things into our gas powered fireplace. “Honey! Seriously, that is our marriage license! My boxer shorts! And, my pillow? What are you doning???”

“I can feel it!!! I feel the POWER!!!”

6 Gillian { 04.02.09 at 6:10 pm }

Melia, I love the “100 Days of Happiness” idea! Remember when you and Margaret and I were emailing each other our victories of the day? It was a cool exercise to focus on all the positive things from one day. I would like to start doing something like that again.

Heather, just go crazy with it! Birth certificates, marriage documents, childhood drawings– I’m sure Grant doesn’t really need that favorite blanky anymore. Embrace the power!

7 Kerri { 04.02.09 at 10:20 pm }

GIRLS STATE?!!! That shit should have been burned upon arrival to the silly event. I still have nightmares of doing Girls State cheers in a crowded auditorium of over achieving neurotic high school girls. AAArrrgghh, the flashbacks!

Anyway…Yay for traveling and learning Spanish! I just heard that I’ll probably be in Ecuador for the summer and could maybe meet up somewhere!


8 Gene { 04.03.09 at 1:14 am }

You burned the Maroon with KNOTH RESIGNS? How dare you. … Balls to the wall, indeed.

9 Gillian { 04.03.09 at 1:32 am }

Kerri- for reals! OK, there were a few very cool girls who I’ve kept in touch with/reconnected with over the years, but the rest of it… crazy town. Lots of cheers and lack of testosterone. You’re going to be in Ecuador?! Hells yeah we need to meet up! Yay, I need me some sweet Kerri lovin’!

Gener, I never said I burned copies of The Maroon. I actually saved more than I should have… many copies of the “Knoth Resigns” issue, in fact. It’s my favorite.

10 Reschooling Tool #20: Ritual Bonfire - Reschool Yourself { 06.23.11 at 7:00 am }

[…] Gill’s account of the ritual bonfire here. What has been your experience with ritual bonfires? What haven’t you burned yet that you […]

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