Friday, January 7, 2011

The Things You Carried--or Not

Story is never so alive as when it requires decisions to be made.

These decisions can be large matters of ethics which, when examined in close range, are not all that momentous because the answers are already well understood.  A moral person is likely to make moral decisions, only on rare occasions being tempted to make immoral ones.  Of course story is resident in such moments, particularly if the moral person does in fact make the immoral decision, whereupon story begins, and we are able to track its consequences.

Story also seethes in potential when an immoral individual suddenly--or perhaps not so suddenly--decides on something moral, which purposes we also track.

Your belief holds the smaller matters to be more important because they are quirkier, have more edge to them, and do tend to refract if not reflect some grander ethical scale.  Decisions of a small matter have been in the forefront of your activities lately because of the need to do something you find more a chore than an occasion of trauma.

You do not like to move from one living arrangement to another; it was a serious chore moving to your present lodgings at 652 Hot Springs Road from 1367 Danielson Road, a geographical distance of less than two miles, although it meant leaving a three bedroom, two bath condo for a cottage perhaps fifty percent smaller.  You were able to adjust to the size, thanks in no small part to what was once the water tower of the estate on which you live,  As well there was a garage in which you surprised yourself by being able to nail sheet rock and particle board to the beams and braces, creating a relatively snug venue you turned into a library, complete with over a thousand books, many of which have succumbed to mildew and other indignities associated with being leaked upon by the torrents of rain that have visited us over the eleven years of your stay here.

Now you are no longer a man with a wife, you are a widower; as well you have been politely informed by your landlord that much as he regarded your presence here, the time has come for your cottage to become the cottage for the appropriate caretaker of his mother, the Grand Dame of the estate.  And so, the thrust of this venture which has led you to compare the decisions needed in order to complete a book (or a story, for that matter) and the decisions of what to take--keep--and what to discard when moving a bit over five miles west of here to 409 E. Sola Street, where your venue will be a rather generous kitchen, a large studio room which will serve as a combination bedroom, sitting room, and office, plus a yard for Sally, large enough you have determined, for some outdoor furniture and some serious thinking over of things al fresco as well as in camera.

Much of what you have accumulated these past eleven years needs to go; there is simply no room for it, and the mechanics and expense of storing things makes too complex a consequence.  You have limited yourself to one hundred books which you will take with you, one candidate for which you purchased only yesterday when you toured the William Eggleston exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts.  That book plus the remarkable Eggleston you were given as a Christmas gift now reduce your potential to 98.  When you consider the Omnibus edition of The Works of Mark Twain you were given some years ago, in fact almost a month to the day after your thirteenth birthday, you are down to 97.  Not to forget The American Heritage Unabridged  dictionary of the English Language nor indeed The Chicago Manual of Style, which is to the publishing industry what The Old Testament is to religion, another twelve over-sized art books, and at least eight books about or containing the work of one Geoffrey Chaucer, and you begin to think you have invented a serious problem for yourself in re the titles "available" to you.  Which novels could you say farewell to?  And what of the argument of securing electronic download of some books on a storage device, obviating the need for shelf space.  Do you really want to keep a copy of The Heart of Darkness?  And in anticipation of the electronic solution, you have already downloaded( dislike that word) Middlemarch on your new Droid X phone, thus allowing you to toss the paperbound edition.  And what of your collection of Big Little Books or your collection of massmarket paperback with their lurid and vigorous covers, all of them printed on non acid-free paper, thus the eventuality that they will give up the ghost at about the time you do?

Books are not the only things to be considered, there is a large overstuffed chair given you by your father when you were sixteen, long since consigned to the garage, but now its fate seems clearer. As well, a set of dressers and chests from your late mother's tastes and preferences, some your companions for at least twenty years, but also facing the gallows because there is no place for them at 409 E.Sola Street, Santa Barbara 93101, nor items of kitchen tools, kept more for sentiment than use.  When, indeed, did you last use the wooden bowl your maternal grandmother used for preparing gefulte fish?  And whence came those awful iced tea spoons with the pagodas and Japanese fan ornaments?  Clothing becomes yet another matter.  The list goes on to such a degree that its very extensive reach becomes its own death sentence.

Traveling light is not seen as a virtue until it is time to travel.  The things you keep, have kept, are more often than not things of sentiment.  It is easy to see the comfort in tangible things.  Just yesterday, you noticed Liz Kuball's childhood companion, Bunny, tucked in a safe bedside chair, when you visited her Los Angeles apartment yesterday.  Bunny made you ache for the presence of your own stuffed animal, a dog, probably modeled after a wire-hair terrier.  His eyes were missing, a wire armature protruded from one of his front paws.  Appropriate for the historical era in which he was presented to you, his name was Prosperity.  Like you, he was a child of the Great Depression.  How Bunny made you long for Prosperity.  He would have made the cut.  Had you his presence, he would have gone to 409 E. Sola with you, but of course he is retreated into the shadowy past and the way he will come with you to 409 E. Sola is in the long run the best way of all, making you think to imagine your last word will be Prosperity, surely worth a comment to he or she who may be with you.

Stories do attract a good deal of clutter just as living spaces do.  You have decisions to make on so many levels.  Thinking about the conundrums, you realize that decisions define you, what you keep, what you consign to the trash, what you have accumulated in the first place.

Most of us are excellent in accumulating memories and impressions; these as well define us, make us who we are, sometimes detracting other times adding stature.  What you hope always to take with you are memories such as of prosperity, and of Annie, and of Jake, and of your splendid sister, Pennee; also of your lovers and your friends, and of students.  Of the two mentors on whose lathes of technique you were formed, Rachel Maddux and Virginia Gilmore.  Of the books you read and loved, the books you read and hated enough to write ripostes; of the things you have written and have left behind, of the things you have written that have eluded you as Prosperity has eluded you, of the books you hope to write, of the books you will write; all this defines you as you ought to be defined if you are to be defined at all.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Our decisions define us- what a comforting yet daunting thought.