Notes from the Death Cleaning...
...Which is now done. With no death, just feelings of lightness and gratitude....
By the time you read this, I should be back in California and the Oneonta house, that beloved house, will no longer be ours, except in happy memory. And the new owners are, by the way, lovely young people, artists, big-hearted, happy and excited to be living in such a beautiful place.
So, as they say, it’s all good.
And it really is.
But I hope you’ll forgive one more chatty, photocentric, perhaps sentimental post before we get back to work.
It was interesting, while cleaning out the basement this week, to get into these old drafts and see how little I understood the stories at the outset. I mean, of course, that makes sense, but once a story is done and out, the accounting of how it came about can sort of hardens into shtick; it gets reduced to a few pithy lines of explanation that improperly, inevitably, make it seem that you, the writer, knew what was going on all along.
But look at this early note-to-self from “Victory Lap”:
So, it would appear that Allison was once called Adrian, and that her would-be abductor was named…Rick. Who knew?
I can feel the sense of honorable confusion in the above, like, “Well, what’s the best thing that can happen? Is this is? How about this? Is this stupid thing even going to work?”
Going through my old drafts, I see that I do a lot of this type of “note-to-self” thing, in which I am trying to tell myself the story, mostly to see if it’s simple enough. A narrative should be able to be relayed fairly simply, in terms of its action (my theory goes), and we should be able to recount the causation to ourselves without too much propping up or theorizing (“this is necessary because of my plan to contrast light w dark” and so on). Just….what happens? And how are the things that happen related? How does A cause B?
Trying to write it out as above will often tell me where there’s a hitch - where I’m missing an important beat, or when two things in sequence aren’t in relation yet, or where I’m forcing something, just because I’m fond of the writing just there.
I also do a lot of “here’s what’s going on” type outlining, just to check the efficiency of the story. Just a listing of the sections and the main action of each. (“Lincoln returns to crypt. Bevins and Vollman see him.”) There were dozens of these outlines in the files for Lincoln in the Bardo, but I was racing through the pages so quickly, there in the basement, that I neglected to take any photos, and now those drafts are all nicely tucked away:
Shifting to another topic, look at this bit of madness I found, on some sort of tissue paper, reverently tucked away by me, in a file folder: an involuntary look inside my head, from…I have no idea when. I saved it, which is weird. I seem to remember I was stuck on a long and boring and frustrating phone call, in our kitchen back in Syracuse, with…someone.
Such is time and memory, hoo boy.
Finally, I want to say a proper and public GOODBYE and THANKS to one of the best non-sentient pals I ever had, my writing shed here in Oneonta. It was very good to me. I remember finishing Lincoln in the Bardo in there the fall of….2016, maybe? I was out here alone, driving to Syracuse to teach Wednesdays through Thursdays, but then the rest of the week I was racing to finish the book, sometimes fourteen hours a day, feeling everything falling into place in this crazy way I’d never experienced before (all the bowling pins coming down on their own, smiling at me, all of them meaning something, something extra, that I hadn’t anticipated), racing out of the shed to walk the trails when I needed a little time to think, or going over to the house for the excellent creativity blend of Graham crackers plus Wilco or Sleater-Kinney…and, by the end of the semester, the book was done.
And most of Tenth of December was written in there too.
These places, these places, this short and sacred life…
Goodbye, old friend,
I know I’ll dream of you often.