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Kill your darlings: Notes on letting go

Letting go has never been easy for me. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite things to do — because, often, letting go feels like losing. Whether it’s letting go of a person or a feeling, a place or a sense of normalcy, things will change, and change can be dreadful.

But, I’m convinced we can’t escape it. We let go all the time: Maybe we’re letting go of our daily trips to the Huddle to stock up on study snacks because we’re running out of Flex Points; maybe we’re letting go of old friends who know all our secrets but have now become strangers on the morning walk to class; maybe we’re letting go of all the “sure things” that aren’t so sure anymore, like football games and half-decent weather. If we aren’t letting go, we aren’t living. 

I always loved this quote from William Faulkner. He said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” I liked it because it was honest. In life and in poetry (because life is like poetry), we have to learn to let go of some beautiful things. In life, we let go of people and ideas and habits and places; In poetry, we let go of words and phrases and verses and stanzas. 

This summer, I wrote a poem called “Cigarettes in the Writing Room.” I spent months working on it, collecting countless pages of raw material and revisions, crafting cool lines that would never make it to the final draft. But there was so much beauty in the things I had to let go of, so much beauty in the darlings I killed. 

And I didn’t do it for no reason — sometimes, we kill our darlings when they don’t fit with the storyline or when they disrupt the flow; sometimes, we simply outgrow them. I think my poem outgrew some of the lines I once loved, but that won’t stop me from keeping those lines scrawled in my moleskin notebook, always available for me to use at some other time or place. 

Letting go of a good thing is not a closed door; letting go can be gentle. 

I think often we conflate letting go with finality. We block numbers, archive posts, pretend things never happened. Growing up, my nana taught me how to cut people off — she’d cut people out of photos and tape them back together again, constructing new realities where those people never existed and nothing ever hurt. 

When I’d ask her about the doctored photographs, she claimed she didn’t know who the missing person was, but she always knew. It was often one of her kids’ ex-boyfriends or a back-stabbing friend — darlings that unfortunately went sour. These days, she tells me, “Don’t do what I did.” She tells me to keep the photos as they are. I figure this is her way of telling me I can let go gracefully. 

My mom sent me a text a few weeks ago. She said, “See yourself as frolicking in a beautiful field of flowers, and sometimes folks will walk into the field and stay a bit and sometimes just having them walk on the outskirts will bring joy … and sometimes people will stay, and sometimes people will leave. And sometimes you’ll tell them to go, sometimes you’ll tell them to come back. And sometimes, you’ll be alone. And you’ll be fine.”

A month from now, when the semester ends, and the dorm buildings and dining halls close for winter break, there’s going to be a lot of letting go for a lot of people.  Some will let go of life on-campus, as they prepare for study abroad in the spring. Others will let go of their first semester of college. A lot of us will let go of our Monday-Wednesday lunch group, or the people we cross paths with on the way to our classes. Maybe we’ll let go of the study spot we wore to death or a dining hall meal we got tired of. We all will kill the darling that is fall semester 2022, and we all will be fine. 

Someday, I’m sure, we’ll look back at all the darlings we’ve had — all the places, people and things we’ve loved — and smile. We’ll light candles for our darlings, say hello to our darlings and we’ll probably always find a way back. So when you kill your darlings, do it with love. 

I want to close with a quote from Maya Angelou: “Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you, I love you if you’re in China, I love you if you’re across town, I love you if you’re in Harlem, I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me, I’d like to hear your voice in my ear, but that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.’” 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.