First, some good news: the first chapter of The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures was named a finalist for Fourth Genre’s Michael Steinberg Essay Prize! I’d post an excerpt, but I’m still working on actually getting it published somewhere, so the curious will have to wait.
It feels like summer today. Lawnmower in the distance, fluttering curtains, susurration of leaves, chatter of birds and squirrels outside my third story window. Right now I’m doing research. Not the kind that requires library or internet or the kind that necessitates phone calls home to ask who taught me to suck the honeysuckles that grew along our backyard fence or whether it was a tire or a wooden monkey swing at that one house we stayed in that summer. Nor is it the kind of research that winds up with me on the floor amid stacks of notebooks or letters dug out of cardboard boxes from the hall closet. Today’s research involved plugging in an ancient (like over a decade old) laptop (time capsule) and meandering through its contents.
Some things it contains:
& Poems and fragments of poems. Some of them about ex-boyfriends. A snippet:You like to save things and glue them together. You believe in the integrity of aesthetics, in a finely crafted argument, in intellect, in feeding your body whiskey and donuts in pursuit of a life of the mind, spareness, your muscles pared down like the end of soap.
& A bartending resume which includes the item:The Upstairs Reub, Northfield, MN. Beer, Long Island Iced Teas, Screwdrivers, Popcorn. College kids thumping the floor. Busy busy busy. Also deejayed during construction worker happy hour.
& A document titled “Impossible Questions and Crazy Answers” from fourth graders at Gunsaulus Academy:Why do we have a mouth? To make our faces look fancy. How do you live without eating? You grow a beard and every time it rains you drink from it and pretend it’s soup. How did God get here? He flew like a bird. Is good luck real? In your dreams.
& Research notes on anti-lynching campaigns in the 1930s, African American soldiers in World War I, Frida Kahlo and the North Star
& Scraps of ideas, images, overheard dialogue:old man on the elevator plaid jacket with a coat of arms, cane, speaking of Irish doorman with the heavy scars on his face but always smiling as much as he could smile that is with the face the way it was “I’ve got two gone. Oh, well, the moving finger writes.”
& My Nancy Drew monologue. I love Nancy Drew. From that one:
Coincidences abound in River Heights. Clues shimmer in the grass, like pastel Easter eggs, hastily hidden, easily discovered. They come in the mailbox, over the telephone, the ground is always soft where the thief crawls in the window. I notice things, chance across hidden trap doors, caches of treasure, smuggling rings. My world is ordered, precise. Tomboys have short hair. Mothers and aunts are plump and concerned. Delicate features denote gentleness. And villains? The ragged scar, shifty eyes, pinched and twisted mouth. They can’t escape my gaze. It is the gaze of the righteous and beautiful.
& Assorted letters to friends and family and one to my landlord asking him to fix a broken kitchen drawer
& My screenplay about waiting tables
& Phebe’s monologue from As You Like It
& A poem called “Get Up, Red Cat” by a second grader named Anthony:
& A feminist take on The Twelve Dancing Princesses I wrote for Evanston Children’s Theater
& A string of words from a cut and paste poetry kit I made for kids:grass drum eat together dress tie whale fur pretty squirrel toy rage rocket lemon
So, that’s what was cartwheeling through my brain ten or fifteen years ago. It’s been an interesting exercise in much more than nostalgia, this looking back, remembering what I was concerned, preoccupied, obsessed with. I’t’s clear certain images and themes have continued to bubble to the surface in my writing, teaching and thinking.
How about you, friends? Do you ever rummage through the miscellany of your days past? Do you find it useful? Illuminating? Cringe-inducing? Let me know!Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward FitzGerald