Even the neatest among us have loose ends stashed somewhere. A second closet full of clothes. An attic full of old furniture and toys. Paint cans in the basement. Old parts and garden tools in the garage. Out-of-battery watches in the bedside table. Hand-knit baby sweaters in the cedar chest.
They’ve been there for years, perhaps almost the whole time you’ve lived in that house, since your children were babies at least. You know where those leftovers are: which box, which corner of the attic. In your mind there floats a vivid image of the folded stacks of baby clothes, the jumble of toys, the keepsakes wrapped in tissue.
Knowledge of them and their location is a weight. You want to get rid of them yet you are afraid that these items, which you haven’t needed in ten years, in twenty, will someday be needed.
In my house, there is a box full of notebooks on a shelf in the basement. Calling the contents “Jane’s Junk” when I was consolidating them was easy. That they belonged to me was more important than what they were: stuff I had archived; ideas and observations I had recorded.
Here, a sketchbook in which I had rubber-cemented magazine and catalog images of clothes I liked. It was a wish book, for how I could look if I had the money or if I were a different person with a different body.
Even more, there are notebooks filled with dated entries. One captures ideas:
11-9-90: Company that takes all store returns, then returns in bulks to the stores. (Name ideas from Jimmy: Take Me Back or Return to Sender.)
12-7-90: There are ice cream shops, and frozen yogurt shops. Why not pudding shops? “Puddin’ Heads”
7-15-91: Story idea: Old woman in nursing home. Young woman comes in once a week to give knitting lessons. Makes old woman think she will not die as long as this continues — it’s like a hope holding her to earth. One week young woman does not come in.
1-20-92: Maps for the car that do not have to be folded — roll into a tube, or a window shade
11-8-92: Baking sweets without sugar, for local sale or catering. Or, a “sweet of the month club” for diabetics.
^Eventually sell to Harry & David.
2-24-93: “The Medical Consumer” — a consumer mag. to cover medical industry — does Consumer Reports already do this?
4-6-93: Christmas present for Brian. Call Yosemite gift shop. “Go Climb a Rock” t-shirt.
I never became an entrepreneur even though this little book is FILLED with random business and product ideas. I look back on these notes, and they have no present-day use. I have no plans to become one, ever. Good thing — I don’t see a pudding cafe generating a lot of business.
The book with commentary is slightly more interesting, and reminds me of speakers I listened to (a lot of author talks), memories they prompted, and related story and essay ideas I generated.
From a July 25, 2003 author talk:
Kevin Hawkes — he’s great — recalled his childhood dream of flying over low, rolling hills.
I’m remembering my recurring dream of flying through our house, almost like swimming but no water, parallel to the floor always, me horizontal, about 3 feet above floor.
This is not the only box of Jane’s junk (that is, old notebooks, print-outs of poems and stories with revision notes, articles razored out of the newspaper). In my mind, I can travel to the basement closet, with another such box filled with writing; to a bookshelf with a green gift box filled with the papers I wrote in graduate school; to the cedar chest and a parcel, wrapped in brown paper, of my childhood and high school diaries. I’m not even counting my work notebooks or paper files at home or on campus. There are even folders of letters — real letters — written to me by others.
If I were famous, these would be my archives. Someone might want them.
But I’m just me. Just Jane with her junk.
The knowledge that I am in possession of all this paper shackles my psyche — that’s what it feels like, a tight band around my head or heart. I fantasize about going from room to room and filling a huge carton with ideas, poems, papers, stories, clippings, and correspondence and dragging it to the back yard and burning the whole pile of it. I picture it as a new start, mainly as a writer.
I’m probably as scared to do this as I am eager to. I mean, if I wrote this stuff at some point, I should do something with it, right? This is raw material, and I generated it.
Furthermore, what if I died, and people who loved me want to find out more about me, hold onto some scrap that I created when I was alive? Wouldn’t they want to pore over my notebooks and say to each other, “Wasn’t Mom cute?” Wouldn’t they feel sad at the wasted potential, the shortened life?
But what if I really burned it all and started from scratch, or started from where I am now? The most ominous fear may be that I would end up with nothing. At least now I have boxes and file drawers full of artifacts of having thought or notice or wanted or created something that is particular to me.
Do I want to be a continuation of the old things, or do I want to be the beginner — the maker — of a new thing?
This is not over yet.