I’m in the chaos part of writing right now, when anything and everything seems as if it might be relevant. I know the pattern hidden in the manuscript puzzle will emerge, so I sit –literally — in the middle. Hundreds of pages are arranged in small stacks around the room, menacingly close to the fireplace.
I’m feeling the pressure of a deadline. The re-structuring needs to be done. The task is simple: What is the best way to tell this story?
Pillow at my back, I close my eyes. The images and scenes are clear. How do they fit together?
I sip water and don’t think. Thinking is detrimental to the process.
The only thing I feel is the need for a toilet. Then a lemon tart. I’m caught in the kitchen peeling an orange, staring out the window at cold.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
From the top of the stairs, I look at the wheel I’ve created. I’m the only missing spoke. If the wheel is going to turn and keep on turning…
I skirt the room and run to the basement I’ve been excavating. It’s mostly filled with empty boxes from the boys’ truck stereos, speakers and electronics, and an assortment of things not worth taking when they moved out. I dutifully boxed these portraits of who they once were.
There is also a box of my childhood dolls that Mom mailed to me in the late 1990s. I have no particular love of these dolls, but I’ve kept them for their stories – the talking doll in the yellow dress that drove my father mad, the Eskimo doll wearing an amouti, the naked doll with sparkling green eyes that I’ve always thought of as Irish, the brown-skinned doll with the three missing fingers. All but the Irish doll exhibit hairstyles that demonstrate a two-year-old’s proficiency with scissors. When I touch the two smallest dolls — a three-inch girl with springy brown hair, and a thin Dolly Dinkle with no clothes – I’m four years-old and I want to play.
The boxes I revisit most often are filled with papers – unpublished and embarrassing manuscripts (Thank you, editors!), photographs, journals, old cards and letters. There’s this box of my life, one filled with the kids’ drawings and writing, plus one each for my parents.
My husband found me in the array. I was reading the random collection I’d saved of my dad’s papers that include his Grade 10 report card, patent applications, and a late 1940s menu for a Chinese restaurant in New York.
My husband was more enthused with the old telephone I’d found than with the academic standing of my father. “Why don’t you just burn it all? Or put it out for recycling? Don’t even open the boxes. Just throw it all away,” he suggested.
Chills of fear. My eyes bugged out. “What?”
Clearly, I have to outlive him.
“I’m making progress,” I said. I pointed to the three large, empty cardboard boxes, and noted the pile of cardboard that I’d put out last week for recycling. (Those gone-to-recycling boxes had been empty, but why mention that?)
He examined the telephone, plugged it into the wall.
“It works,” I said. He wrapped the long cord around the base.
“Can I have this?”
“Of course,” I said, without a caveat about burning the remains of my early life.
The laughter, the random stuff, sending pictures of some of it to the kids, something unhooked. Partially.
I did some mending, sewed a banner. I cooked supper and helped clean up. I stayed out of the paper circle. I wrote about my dad and about the things we learn once a person has died. I read a couple of articles from magazines I was set to recycle.
I woke up this morning to see ice fog and a temperature so brittle that walking to the end of the street is a hazard. I won’t have to step outside today.
I scooped up the mess of papers without looking, without analyzing, without thinking.
The giving up of yesterday worked. I had a solution and I didn’t need the papers to guide me. The magic had happened.
And if it hasn’t? If the current incantation doesn’t actually work? It could be a sign that this writing thing isn’t working out, that maybe I need a different job. Perhaps, I’ll retrain to become an archivist or a museum curator because I’m quite sure historical and social preservation is much more fun than proving chaos theory.