Giant Westchester County paper shredder gives me fresh view on life & writing

betty ming liu Travel 6 Comments

Today, my life is in shreds. Literally. And guess what — it feels great. Absolutely exhilarating, in fact. Here’s what happened….

I’m a resident of Westchester County, N.Y., which owns a giant paper shredding truck. All year long, the Mobile Shredder drives around, offering a secure way to recycle sensitive documents.

At 10 a.m., that monster machine was parked in my village. Very exciting.

First, I dumped old tax returns, bank statements and bills from 2000 — the year of my divorce. I also threw in files from 2002 to 2004. (My accountant says I should always keep the most recent five years of financial paperwork, just in case I’m ever audited.)

Next to go were four out of five copies of my first novel. (I saved one.) Getting into the plot of my wanna-be book might be a bit much here. I wrote it during the last stretch of my rocky marriage.

Looking back, I guess what counts is that it was my first foray into fiction and total self-expression.

By the time I typed “The End,” I’d written my way out of my 17-year relationship with my husband; I finally realized we were better off raising our daughter as divorced friends.

Watching the paper shredder fascinated me. (If you’d like to see photos of this vehicle in action, click HERE to view them on my Facebook page.)

This big box on wheels chews paper clips but not binders. Since two manuscripts were bound in wire coiling, I had to rip out them apart before dumping them.

The physical effort of destroying my past felt deliciously drama queen-ish. But what a liberating moment of letting go. I felt like I’d just lost 10 pounds.

Little bits of my first novel were left behind in the coils. Visually, the whole mess struck me as very appealing. Circular black wiring, going round and round. Frayed paper, exploding. Like a firecracker. Thinking “firecracker” led to my next thought…

Over the summer, I vacationed in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Someone there told me that the name “Betty” sounds like the Tamil word for “firecracker.” As I wondered what to do with my paper firecracker, I remembered this bowl which was gifted to me many moons ago.

A sweet glass thingie that’s hand-painted and rather old, it was made by an artist named “Betty.” I keep it in my kitchen as more of a display item than useful serving bowl.

This morning, I examined this knick-knack again, for the first time in ages. And I felt like I was getting a cosmic message. Hey, I was just in India! I play the drums too! Even though I’m not much of a musician, I know that within my soul beats the heart of a percussionist. I need to take my new experiences and get on with a new groove.

Forget the kitchen. I have a perfect, new location for my souvenir from an eventful morning: the shelf near my desk.

I don’t know if this arrangement qualifies as art, but I am enjoying the look. A personal reminder of how much I’ve changed, that my life is filled with new experiences. That I can let go of the past in a way that energizes me. And that maybe, the best of my creative self is just ahead.

Yes, I’m thinking about exploring a new writing project or two. Maybe I’ve just opened up the emotional space to get started.


Note: To find out if your town has access to this fabulous shredding truck or other monster gadgets, click HERE for Westchester County’s contact info. I subscribe to the email alerts from my little local government; that’s how I found out about this service which is supported by my astronomical tax payments.

Comments 6

  1. Post

    okay, okay….i’ll explain more about my first novel. it was a chinese herbal medicine thriller involving a chinese-american newspaper reporter (female), her pain-in-the-ass immigrant mom and an old guy ghost from the old country. three top agents read it. they each also read a revised copy that i did later. all three sent me very encouraging rejection letters.

    then i got divorced and started a new novel about a middle-aged chinese-american mom who was newly divorced. (haha.) but once i started getting happy in my new life, i didn’t want to work on this manuscript anymore either. too much looking back to painful moments in the past!

    from here, i started teaching. two years ago, i added the blogging. writing like this online has such an enriching practice. posting in this space has cleared away so many of the barking dogs and cobwebs in my head. so let’s see what 2011 brings.

    how about you? any writing dreams to grab — or things you’re letting go of?

  2. Betty! I love this post! I like the memoir (but secretly newsy) angle. You could be the Chinese-American, non-Jesus-y Ann Lamott of journalism. But more importantly, taking a giant paper shredder to a novel is an incredibly gutsy thing to do. I like how you reconciled it with the bowl on your desk. This is a real, feel-good post for anxiety-ridden writers.

    1. Post

      why thank you, sydney! this is high praise coming from a writer as fine as yourself. :)

      and pamela, thanks. i had some really good mother-daughter scenes, filled with friction, affection and humor. over time, i also got better at, um, fleshing out the romantic scenes (gotta have a love interest!). btw, who knows what services you have in sf — it’s worth exploring your local city and county government websites. start clicking around, you might find all kinds of goodies buried there.

  3. I know the feeling, sort of, and it’s a good one!

    BTW, do you think you’ll try to get the novel published somewhere else? Like, do you think you sent it to top agents who were just the wrong match? I realize this post is about letting go of the old to let in the new, but you had me at “chinese herbal medicine thriller.”

    I often think of your metaphor-of-dating-lesson on pitching, primarily cuz it works.

  4. Post

    no, i don’t think i’ll publish either novel. some things are just about the journey. let me explain…when i was in college, my father forbid me from taking english and/or writing classes; he wanted me to study accounting. i was so un-evolved that i listened to him!

    so the first novel was me teaching myself about storytelling. the second one taught me about creative writing. i might salvage ideas, characters and scenes from the earlier works, but it’s time to move ahead!

    btw, if you’re coming back to read this post and the content has changed a little, it’s because i’ve been tweaking. trying to find clearer ways to express how i feel.

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