On wrapping up the year and reading (some of) the comments
I’ve had a thing for owls since I was a little kid. I’d draw them over and over again with pipes and top hats (go figure) and big asterisk eyes. Meet Mayor Owl:
In a more naturalistic vein, I still own my copy of The Owls of North America. And of course I have owls on my Christmas tree. Here’s one of my faves:
I came across Mayor Owl while going through the last (please lord please let them be the last) boxes of my mother’s papers and memorabilia. Those boxes had been living across the alley from my house in a rented storage unit, along with dozens of cartons of family photos, three generations’ worth of school papers, most of my writing files, many many many books, and stray pieces of furniture with nowhere to go.
We set a deadline of December 15 to clean out the unit. It turned out to be hard work, hours and hours of it, necessitating derangements and reorganizations and spinoff projects in various parts of the house as we found places for what we wanted to keep, but we did it. I’ve gotten a lot better about deadlines the last few years.
**Brief pause to share Flanders and Swann’s classic “The Gas Man Cometh,” about how home-improvement projects go off the rails. It gets invoked in my house on the regular.**
The hard labor involved was physical but also emotional. Spouse and I had a good practical reason to tackle the storage unit after years (years!) of neglect: That monthly rental fee was adding up. Deferred decisions turn out to be expensive. I had a powerful person reason too: With my mother gone six months now, I felt the need to get things sorted by the end of the year—not just her things but mine as well.
How would I describe the process? So many words apply: therapeutic, wistful, life-affirming, surprising, tedious, absorbing, dusty. Especially dusty. I will write eventually about what we choose to save—the obverse of clutter—but those words will do for now.
I think a lot these days about preservation and curation, what gets saved, who chooses, and why. I’ve been confronting those questions as I sort through the boxes we pulled from the storage unit: Keep Mom’s old college papers? (No.) Keep letters and telegrams sent to her many decades ago by friends and old flames? (A few.) My own college and grad-school papers I winnowed down from several cartons to a stack that will fit neatly in one archive box (that’s our cat Charlie for scale):
I tossed most of my class notes, figuring that if I hadn’t looked at them in 30 years, I probably wasn’t going to. Still, I was glad to be reminded that I paid close attention in class. I did keep some papers, though, especially ones with comments that delivered high professorial praise (“the best paper on Progressivism that I’ve read this year,” “your writing is unusually strong and clear”). But I also saved some with comments that urged me to do more, dig in more deeply, see how far an argument and evidence could take me—increasingly sophisticated iterations, as I moved from college through grad school, on the advice I got in 7th grade: Unpack your ideas. That advice I will hold on to. In different iterations, story by story, book by book, it’s what I will keep trying to do as long as I can write.
Speaking of comments, if you have read my book and enjoyed it, I’d love you for ever if you would rate and review it on Goodreads and Amazon (or LibraryThing or StoryGraph or your book platform of choice). Those reviews/ratings really help boost an author’s morale (yes, I do read them once in a while, even though authors aren’t supposed to read reviews), and they can help a book find new readers.
Oh, and on January 4, 2022, the book comes out in paperback! I wrote a new afterword about our pandemic relationships with stuff and trends like #cluttercore, so check it out.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you and yours health and joy and light and all the best of this festive season, in spite of darkness and COVID and all the rest of it. See you in 2022.