Notes from the Death-Cleaning
Well, I am in the thick of it, friends.
I got here to our New York State house on August 13th and have been cleaning it out, fifteen hours a day, ever since. It has been a beautiful experience, really - so many unearthed memories. Our understanding of our life at any given moment is necessarily small and limited but this has been a wonderful reminder that life, the real life, the one you actually lived, is beyond your grasp to remember whole, ever. But it sure has been fun, briefly, to see it….more fully.
Also, our house seems to be one of those magical houses that, the more you empty it, the fuller it gets. Which was how it felt living in it too - the more intensely we lived and created in it, the more it gave back to us.
I will truly miss it.
We bought this house, just outside of Oneonta, on the road to Delhi, in 2006, and started living here full-time in 2009. I’d commute into Syracuse, a couple of hours away, to do my teaching. I wrote Tenth of December and Lincoln in the Bardo here and, in the winter of 2020, when we were here during the pandemic, wrote several of the stories in the upcoming book, Liberation Day, too.
So, as promised, this is our break from work, but I thought that, over the next few sessions (i.e., at least until I’m done, on August 30th, when the movers come) I’d do offer a little photo-diary of my time here.
Please forgive any and all errors or disorganization over the next few posts.
One of the jobs that turned out to be bigger that I expected was the, ahem, organization/boxing up of my archive. Over the years, whenever I finished a draft, or got a box of foreign editions in the mail, I’d just, you know…add it to the archive (i.e., throw it into the basement.
Here’s what it looked like down there after I’d been working on it for a day or so:
And there’s a big bookshelf around the corner too, on which I’d stash my foreign editions as they came in, and which I’ve had to sort through (not that I’m complaining! It’s NICE to have foreign editions! And yet….)
A few months ago, I mentioned a breakthrough “text” called Uncle Cloud’s Partial Lexicon of Humans, that I wrote at work, back around 1990. I’ve written about this more than once (page 107 of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, for example) - it’s the book of Seussian goofs I wrote at work while supposedly taking notes for a conference call - the first time I realized in my gut that, for me, fun was the main order of business.
Well, I found it, and here are a few pages from it. As you’ll see, they’re lite and goofy, not Hemingwayesque at all, not (by my view at the time) even writing at all…and yet, they had a spirit of joy that was totally missing in my more “serious” work:
I also found the whole text of the infamous (to me, anyway) "novel,” La Boda de Eduardo, the writing of which - well, and the subsequent very unpleasant reading of it - propelled me into that Uncle Cloud business. I will only share the title page. (Although, I have to admit, the book isn’t as bad as I’ve been making it out to be. Just a little…solemn, is all.)
Finally, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to myself a few years before all of that. I’d completely forgotten that I’d ever written this. I wrote it and stuck it into a binder full of a book of stories that, apparently, I’d disavowed. I remember putting that book together. I was working as a tech writer at the Sterling-Winthrop Research Center (a pharmaceutical company in Albany - I apparently requisitioned one of their binders to put the book into). The stories are neatly broken out with tabs, but, for all of that, it wasn’t doing it for me when I finally read it as a book. And so I left myself this note as a way of separating from the book, I think:
The funny thing is, I can still hear some trace-Hemingway in there. The book about childhood I mention…didn’t work out. It would be another two years or so before I stumbled on to good old Uncle Cloud and then started CivilWarLand. But, dang it, I like the earnestness of this kid, who had taken a break from writing pharmaceutical summary reports to dash off that little manifesto, up on the top floor of the Research Institute, which had big windows that looked down on Albany and the Hudson River…a nice place to dream, for sure.
The question I get asked most often about Lincoln is the Bardo is: “This time, did the Reverend go to Heaven?”
On Sunday, for you lovely paid subscribers: I found the answer in my archives and will share it with you then.
So…I’d better get back to it. Tonight is Wednesday, August 24, and I am packing the kitchen.