“Cleaning The Basement”
(As of 12.21.20)
This collection of developing essays could ultimately become a memoir that tries to be accurate as it reconstructs parts of my past. It plays with my head and heart and may fiddle with the consensus truth as defined by others. Writing it makes me laugh, cry, cringe or pine for the good old days. It also helps me see the present through the past.
Virginia Woolf says, “The past is beautiful because one never realizes an emotion at the time. It expands later and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
These stories are bits and pieces that have a special appeal as I look back on many decades. I interpret most of them as positive, but are they true? To the best of my knowledge, I say yes, but l urge those who know me from back then, to set the record straight and/or add to it. I welcome feedback similar to what Tara Westover asked of her siblings as she shared early drafts with them and tried to make her memoir Educated true to its details and context. To its reality.
So, what stories do I build on from faded memory traces and hard-wired experiences? What ones irresistibly tease me with cherry-picked tang or sweet juiciness? What ones are rotten apples that should be left on the ground? What ones are low-hanging fruit that must be gulped down now? What ones are tempting my memory, but not ready to be shared yet, or ever?
And what ones have already been confronted at length and have had their say, at least for a while?
Like stories about golf. My life-long interest in hitting a little ball into a slightly bigger hole covered lots of time and space in my book An Old Caddie Looks Back: Reflections about a Town that Loves Golf . . . and Tiger; and that game later played a significant role in my novel, The Learner. I’m going to let golf have a rest for a while.
Or like stories about nature. My half-century of experiencing a great big lake up close was the dominant focus in Discovering Lake Superior and the Western Upper Peninsula. Our family-owned property along with its beauty and vulnerability are always gentle on my mind. I dream about it during times away and try to learn more about it when there, but I’m going step back from writing about that place for a while.
Or my book Discovering Beloit: Stories Too Good to be True? It’s a novel that gave me an opportunity to focus on two matters close to my head and heart: teaching and investigative journalism. There is so much still to say about these fascinations, but if I start out with something designed to be essay length now, it will be hard to avoid letting it lead to something too long. Maybe another day.
And there are topics I am very interested in that could be the focus of single-themed books: parents, friends, marriage, kids, homes, games, Beloit College, England, sex, and more, but not for now.
Here is what I am left with: The experiences and memories that have made the cut for now.
- Turning eighty!
- As a mail carrier, ascending to a porch that changed my life
- Learning about the birds and bees from Princess Elizabeth and Cindy
- Starting fires and putting them out
- Appreciating cars
- Appreciating trains
- Awed by radio
- Talking to doctors
. . . and some other favorite things.
Together these essays may embody a tentative book title: Cleaning the Basement: A Memoir of growing (older?). The first part borrows from the words that my wife, Mim, spoke clearly and repeatedly to me as I worked on my last book. She would say, “You’re spending all that time on writing. When are you going to clean the basement?”
I looked right at her and thought, “Hmmm, interesting question.” Only later did I realize that maybe I could have the best of two worlds: continue my writing and work on (ahem) cleaning the basement, which gave birth to the main title here. I know, it’s lame, stupid, sophomoric and discardable, but I have to share the fact that so far, she smiles when I say “I am working on Cleaning the Basement.”
Note that I have said, “. . . may take on the title.” There are other candidates such as:
- Life Begins at LXXX
- How Old are YOU?
- What Now?
- Picking Up and Dusting Off the Pieces
- Looking at the Past Through Cloudy Lenses
- Looking at the Past with New, Snazzy Plastic Lenses Implanted by Dr. Mario Rojas
- Grasping for Straws
- And others that I haven’t considered.
In any event, I am slowly working on these developing essays with a fascination that lights some new fires now and then and always makes me realize that I’m still getting to know myself. (Yipes. Gulp!)