Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Clutter VS Clean -- Which Writer Are YOU? And...On Endings.

In the morning, while not quite awake, coffee mug in hand, I could walk over a couple of chalk-outlines of dead bodies to get to my computer and might not notice. A few stray dogs, a stolen painting or two, vandals who spray-painted literary slander on my walls, a squirrel infestation, a few lost clog dancers ... oblivious. I'd blindly pad over to my messy desk, stacked high with teetering piles of books and start typing away.

I have this memory of seeing a picture of, I believe, Ray Bradbury's office when I was a kid. (Someone's got to know something on this... Readers?) And it was packed with oddities -- animal heads, weird statues, masks .... It was ... liberating.

Anyone who's seen my space can testify to the disaster. It brings to mind post-Katrina photos.

Or .... it did.

I've been reformed. I've gone the straight and narrow. I've got labeled trays. I've got alphabetized books. I can see both my desktop AND the floor. (The floor, sadly, needs to be redone. I didn't know this when it was protected by books and stacks and scribbled maps ...)

The good news is that I found some really good stuff. Including ...

copies of the auction papers on my first ancestor on American soil -- sheep thief, did not go for as much as we'd have liked

my research on insane asylums

a great personal note to myself that quotes my husband as saying, "Be as graceful about being indecisive as you've been about being decisive all of these years."

my middle school ADVENTURES IN POETRY -- out of which I memorized (at a nun's request for a speech contest) THE HIGHWAYMAN -- in which a woman shoots herself to warn her lover that the Red Coats are after him (interesting choice for a nun to give to a seventh grader ...)

and, well, this is the most embarrassing thing of all -- I found diamonds.

Actual diamonds.

See, I had this family ring. Dave proposed to me without a dime. And so I took the diamonds out of this family ring to make a smaller engagement ring. The diamonds had been in the family for a couple generations -- my grandfather found them in a broach stuck in a lump of tar in a bathroom stall he was cleaning out ... in, say, the 1930s.

Or he stole it and came up with the story of the lump of tar.

In any case, nice diamonds ...

And I thought I'd handed them over to my sister -- who really loves things like diamonds and can keep track of things, in general. I have a distinct memory of this ... and now I wonder, huh, did I give her some other ring in the family made from that broach -- it was a sizable broach.

In any case, I shouldn't own anything of cash value. That's the point here -- or one of them.

So, I found the old ring -- missing three teeth that are now in my engagement ring. And, well, that's a reward for trying to mend my broken ways ...

I used to clean out after the last draft of every big project. But now that I try to keep multiple projects going there is no end and so no new beginning.

And this was good for my psyche.

Ending projects isn't as joyful as I once thought it would be. There is a moment's relief -- for me at least -- maybe a small swell of accomplishment -- but then the world is gone, the characters you created - gone. A strange lonesomeness takes hold.

This is a common thing among writers.

Not all -- I've heard Mark Winegardner say that he doesn't like writing. He likes having written.

But I've heard Donald Hall talk about his definition of contentment (which I've accepted) -- which happens around 3/4 of the way through a poem -- when he can almost see an ending ... but it's not yet there. I love being in that part of a novel -- when the ending is a shape in the fog. You know what you're writing toward -- if not why.

And I remember asking Madison Smartt Bell why he'd picked up a certain assignment. He said he knew that the end of his trilogy was coming, and he knew that with that ending would come sadness. He wanted something else to dig into ...

I get that.

But now I not only have beginnings, middles, endings -- I have a filing system.

Each metal tray is labeled with a project ... except for one. It's simply marked IDEAS. It's where I secretly dumped all the stuff I didn't know what else to call. It's my small mess. It's my rebellion. It's where the good stuff -- that makes no sense -- will hopefully start sending up shoots that will bear strange, unidentifiable fruit ...