Friday, August 19, 2011

The Archaeology of Self

It did not seem like a diversion from necessary work, much less did it seem a mistake.

You looked in one of the few non-grocery-specific cabinets within your studio-office-home, knowing there were relevant files which, you'd thought, contained materials related to the work at hand.  The diversion/mistake resided next to the file box in the form of three ancient three-ring binders.  Next to those were bulking dummies, pleasant reminders of another time and another range of technologies from your salaried days with book publishers.

Seen on a shelf, a bulking dummy would appear to be a hardcover book, six by nine, without a dust jacket.  One of its purposes would be to help the artist construct the necessary artwork for that very item, the dust jacket.

Bad mistake.  This particular bulking dummy had been put to use as your daily journal for the year 1999.  How could you not be curious to see how it had been with you for a few days twelve years ago.

Worse mistake, the curiosity begins to spread to those three-ring binders, two of which were filled with plastic sleeve pages that made them effectively into a photo album.  You became an immediate hostage to the rebels of nostalgia.  Snapshots of cherished animal pals from past years.  Several photos featured cat and dog friends, leaning against, about, and over this frog bank, which has been with you--made all the moves, from Hollywood to Santa Monica, to Summerland, to Santa Barbara, to here--at least forty years.

You purchased it on one of your trips to the Southwest, possibly Acoma, because you were determined to see that pueblo, thanks to Willa Cather's Death Comes to the Archbishop. Could have been any of several others.  There were as well photos of Hopi kachina dolls, some sadly lost because of one of the Santa Barbara fires, but others having survived the venues, the experiences (traumas) of moving, as for example these to your right.  (Okay, so the one in the middle is an oil painting of Sally someone gave you as a remarkable gift.)  There are other items as well, small pots, whimsical vases that would be hard pressed to hold more than one flower, a tiny ceramic pot,hardly larger than a thimble, brought back from France as a gift from your sister, a carving of a raven by a Kwakutyl craftsman that came your way.  These and others like them have become your lares and penates, your household gods.  The carving of the raven is likely the possession you came by before any of the others in display.  Of course there are photos of your relatives; somewhere you can even find a registration card from your junior year at UCLA.

It is amazing to have this unplanned archaeology thrust upon you to the point where the work that needed to be done--the client had even phoned to remind you--long set aside, your dinner hour receding into the distant past as you busily reconstruct moments that were of exquisite concern--not all necessarily happy or, to be fair, not by any means all sad--and want, demand your participation now.

In a number of contexts, the subject of alternate universe fiction has been as insistent on getting your attention as a puppy wanting to be let out to pee.  Since including an essay on the subject in your forthcoming, now in press, book, you realized all story is alternate universe.  Even today, with yet another client for whom you were prepared,  you argued that all fiction is minimum parallel universe, bordering on into alternate, simply because of the potential for reader one seeing something reader two didn't see and visa versa, not to forget the wonderful synergy when editor queries or suggests to author.

In some ways, an editorial query is duality personified:  It is immediately a slap in the face, as in, What do you mean, you don;t understand what that means?  I understand what it means.  It is also, with the right suggestion, the writer confessing to the editor, Wow,I didn't even see that.

Among the many things your own past is to you, it can be a past someone wouldn't want under any circumstances or, indeed, a past that invites envy.

You do not, as you sit looking out the dining area window at an apple tree in full fruit, contemplate the exact moments of acquisition of the things about you, even the temporary things such as the bowl of apricots, Lupe, the maid,brought you.  As it is, discovering the wooden spoon and fork when tossing a salad recently, caused you a brief sense of disconnect because you had no memory of how you'd come by them. The more you tried, the greater the mystery.  But the mystery soon solved itself.  You got the solution from thinking about the apricots.  Lupe is the source of the salad implements.

You are surrounded by the energy of things; an energy that extend into your discovery of notes, words, essays written by, of all people, you.  There in your journal from 1999 was your thoughtful memory of a dream in which your father appeared to you, apologizing to you for not having taught or given you things he felt would have helped.  If an apology was in order, it more properly ought to have been yours to him for not listening closely enough.  The joy here is that you are not finished with one another.  He has been dead since 1993, but appears in your dreams with some regularity.  Almost without exception, you awaken from them refreshed and thrilled to have been the son of such a man.

It is fortunately not a choice one has to make between the then and the immediate now and the hopes for the future; all are fraught.  Life is fraught.  Life requires just as much close reading as story does.

No comments: