Still cleaning things out, emptying closets. Unearthing a lot of Old Stuff int he process. I’ve never been good at keeping journals or diaries, but I’ve tried from time to time. Occasionally, when I go through one of these housecleaning fits, I find them, sad fragments, disconnected sometimes by years, even decades, a few weeks, maybe a couple of months consecutively recorded, and now…
I’m finding things from before Clarion, before 1988, when I was still trying on my own to break into writing—into publishing, I should say. Spiral notebooks filled with cryptic notes, phone numbers, names now forgotten, and story fragments, as well as the personal expression of profound frustration. It can be enlightening, amusing, embarrassing. I kept a lot of stuff—old manuscripts, first, second, and nth drafts, thinking that when I became Famous some university would take all my Personal Papers. You read about that from time to time—“The English Department of the University of Falsetto has acquired the Papers of the late Milton Toastmaster, world-renowned novelty and short story splicer…”
But I’m sipping coffee now and leafing through a couple of long forgotten notebooks and chuckling wryly (yes, he says, one does hear the wryness) at the ambition and cluelessness. It’s the story ideas that I thought I’d never forget, the paragraph or two jotted down acting as place markers in memory for when I could flesh out the piece.
In The Way of All Things it is said that each god has a demon who pursues him. The god fights and while he fights he tries to do such things as gods must do. The demon wins—always. But as he kills the god, the demon in his turn becomes a god. And so it goes.
And immediately following this, a snippet of dialogue:
“Insurance companies will own us all one day.”
Ideas never pursued for whatever reason—probably because I just didn’t have the Stuff to follow through. For another instance:
Shop of Midnight Dreams
There was a time you could walk into our shop and get anything. No, not like an antique shop—that’s all second, third, and fourth hand, mostly garbage. No, we provided all new. If you needed a wool sweater like Spencer Tracy wore in Captains Courageous, well, we made you one. It’d fit, too, guaranteed. A captain’s wheel table with a glass top? That, too, and fingerprints would never show on the glass. I remember once Stella whipped together a spinning wheel that spun gold—that was a special one, you don’t get to do that often. The wheel won’t work for anyone but the person it was made for and we trusted her not to abuse it. My own favorite was a lost meaning. A couple on rough times had lost the core of what they were together; it was all wrapped up in a memory. I found it and gave it back to them. That was one of the hardest but one of the most gratifying. We could do anything once.
It’s all different now. You see, Mr. Waymaker retired. Sold the business. I guess I can’t blame him who’d want to stay around if—
I know where that one came from, but I have no idea where I thought I’d go with it.
Another binder yielded a concerted effort at journaling from 1985. The January 21st entry reads:
I’ll be perfectly honest—just this once: I haven’t got the faintest idea why I want to be a writer. But, then, this is only this morning. I have an incredible cold (the same one I’ve had now all winter, I do believe; I can’t get rid of the damn thing!) and I wrote two pages of purest garbage in my novel before trying to jump start the car. The car started. Success! The novel is moving of its own power to an inexorable conclusion of blood and violence through an inexorable trail of very dull and badly wrought prose. It’s strange: I’m watching myself screw it up and can honestly see no way to stop it.
That year it probably would have been Compass Reach. Seems some things only become more sophisticated, but not much different.
I kept a lot of lists in these things—stories finished, stories submitted, stories yet to be born. There are titles listed I have absolutely no recollection of. I sometimes, I remember, jotted down titles in an imagined short story collection and then tried to imagine the contents of the book as thought it were finished. Thought I might trick my hindbrain into giving me the story to go with the cool titles.
I find a lot of notes about Donna.
Other people, less so, but one of these “journals” contains the piece I wrote the day Earline Knackstedt died. Earline was one half of the Gene and Earline team that owned Shaw Camera Shop, at which I worked for 20 years. While she was alive and they owned it, I think I loved that job. Earline fought cancer for a long, long time, and finally succumbed in April of ’85. It was devastating. Not so much the initial news, but the slow, gradual realization of what her absence meant. It changed my life. Instead of buying Shaw Camera, I became more dedicated to becoming a writer, and I knew that owning a business would end that dream. Three years later I applied to and was accepted at Clarion and went from there.
It’s the last couple days of July now. Supposedly, at least two editors I know of have promised to finish reading Orleans and make some kind of decision. I expect to be rejected. It’s not even a considered thought, just what it. Give me another year or two, and it really will be as if I’m starting all over.
I have “started over” dozens of times be the evidence of this Old Stuff. I ought to be good at it by now.
If the rain has stopped I must go walk the dog. To be continued…