Monday, January 31, 2011

Editing Furniture: The desk stays in the studio

The clutter and enticements of your past often linger within you as a metaphor, sleeping in your memory attic, or perhaps the linen closet of nostalgia.  You step over events and the traces of their documentation (photos, printed programs, letters, framed awards, certificates, publications) without a second thought.  Your purpose is to emulate friends and associates who are more orderly, who think in advance to file things where they ought to be filed, who have a sense of where things ought to go.  These same individuals know when to discard things whose purpose or use-by date are short-lived.

Your friends have taken you on nevertheless, perhaps seeing in you adorability in the jumble and clutter you evoke at the mere hint of attempting to retrieve a specific project or item from the aggregate that is your mind, your work area, and your work ethic.  It is a rare time when you are outright unprepared; you have too much experience behind you to allow being caught without a flurry of thought and/or opinion on a matter.  You do require time, however, to make it seem that your opinions or preparations seem to have some order.

The amount of necessary time to prepare seems to you to be in direct proportion to your take on how much clarification is needed.

Moving is a form of intensified editing; you are paring down books, furniture, items you came by in the first place because they seem to you to be pure art.  No one else, looking at these, could have reason to suspect the item on your wall was art; at best they'd guess you considered it art or that you were making some form of statement by putting such a thing on the wall.

One of your oldest and dearest friends wondered today how you were coming with your edits.  You know better than to go general with this friend.  Instead, you tried for humor, explaining how you'd edited a sofa, a book case, a night stand, and an overstuffed chair.  He blinked two or three times before wondering if there were some new approach you'd discovered for making fiction sound more domestic.  "We live in a different world than the one we were born into,"  this man, who once had a computer for nearly a month before having to admit he did not know how to turn it on, said, a rueful smile dancing over his lips.

This observation, an essential truth, is already a cliche to be avoided at all costs, except when having lunch with a chum who will not pounce upon it with gotcha √©lan.

The subject is moving, changing residences, going through things you and others have written, received as gifts, read in some periodical, then set aside for some project that either came to grief or fruition.  Can you live without X, you ask yourself as you heft X.  You think of T.S. Eliot and his objective correlative, you think of the joyful times you had in the past, hanging out with the novelist/short story writer/editor/teacher, Robley Wilson, and the time you sent him a short story when he was editing The North American Review.  One of your characters had occasion to observe that he'd rushed to the station to catch a train that had left days earlier.  "That," Wilson told you, "is carrying the objective correlative too damned far."

Moving is carrying things too damned far.  Using the act and process of moving as a metaphor is carrying the objective correlative too damned far.  The only positive thing to come out of the exchange of venues for certain items and not for others is the certain knowledge that if you were using moving as a metaphor, you would have the good sense not to call it out in direct narrative.  It would be, as Bobbie Ann Mason did in her remarkable short story, "Shiloh," kept in the background.  How tempting it must have been to contemplate a story set in a park, commemorating one of the most intense battles of the Civil War, involving a husband and wife who get into an intense argument.  It was a mark of her maturity as a writer not to have called the parallels to the readers' attention, which means, now that you think of it, that you are severe in your dislike of the moving process and wish it were completed.

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