Category Archives: Literary Legacy

From Darkness, Light?

from-darkness-to-light

This past weekend, I was driving on a two-lane stretch of Route 41, surrounded by vast empty fields and punctuated by the occasional warehouse or farm. It was around 7 o’clock. The light of the day was starting to wane and most drivers were on their way home, either near or far. I noticed that a few of the cars in front of me swerved to avoid something in the road, something black and curved. A blown out tire perhaps. But as I got closer, I saw that it was moving. That is was in fact a black dog. It had been hit. It was dying.

My stomach clenched up as the heat of shock rushed over my skin. A million thoughts raced through my mind: Should I turn around? There were a lot of cars on the road, and no safe place to turn around. But how could I leave the dog back there alone and suffering? And once I got back to the dog, how would I even get to it without getting hit myself? And even if I did miraculously get the dog out of the road, what could I do for it? I wasn’t equipped to put it out of it’s misery. I didn’t have a gun or a syringe of cyanide. We were hours away from any emergency vet clinic. There was nothing I could do.

I kept driving.

Over the next twenty minutes, I saw both a dead striped cat and a dead gray dog on the side of the road. I was grateful when it got too dark to see anything except the other cars.

I was a wreck for the rest of my three hour drive home, looping through a series of crying jags as I tried to shake the vision of that dog from my mind, and assuring my own black dog curled up in the backseat that I will always look after her. That I will keep her safe.

My sixteen year old cat is in slow decline. My fourteen year old dog recently had a health scare that smacked me across the face with the reminder that she is getting old. The father of someone very dear to me is losing his battle with numerous ailments to the point where he must be spoon-fed most of his meals — that is, when they can get him to eat.

And then I saw that dog in the road. Several days later, in quiet moments, I keep catching myself thinking  I should have done something.

It is difficult not to be affected by this sense of death lurking around the corner, and I’ve been in a bit of a funk. A friend suggested that I find a way to celebrate life. Start a new creative project. Adopt a kitten. Foster a puppy. While the two animals I already have certainly will not allow the addition of a third, my friend was on to something. This is why people have children. Make art. Write novels. To celebrate life. To create something that will live beyond death.

So. Perhaps it’s time to start my next novel.

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What We Leave Behind

My neighbor died a couple of weeks ago. He was an older man, and had been ill for a long time. I’d passed him in the hallway many times during my seven years of living in the building, and he parked his car two spaces over from mine in the garage, but we never had more than a nodding relationship. Over the last few years, he’d become markedly more hunched over and his forays outside of his own home were less and less frequent. Every now and again, the newspapers would pile up in front of his door for a week, and I’d wonder if he’d passed away. But then a few days later, I’d see him hobbling down to the mailboxes or out to his ancient Toyota Corolla with the Catholic radio bumper sticker.

According to the tribute posted in the elevator, Rudy had lived in the building for over 30 years, and died in the hospital with his daughter and son-in-law by his side. This is all I know about the man at the other end of the hall. I have never seen inside his condo, have no idea if he was a minimalist or a pack rat, if the appliances are brand new or 30 years old. I have no idea what he left behind for his daughter and son-in-law to sort through, to throw away, or pack up in boxes. We spend so much time behind closed doors, surrounded by the things we have collected. And then the moment we die, our treasured belongings become Stuff That Someone Else Has to Deal With.

I did a quick mental inventory of my own belongs: if I was hit by a bus or had an aneurysm tomorrow, what would my family have to sort through, throw away, or pack up in boxes?

Generic Teen Angst PoemThere are the sentimental items (photos, favorite books), the disposables (toiletries, condiments, laundry detergent), the donation pile (clothing, shoes, vacuum), and of course the I-hope-my father-never-see-these items (sexy underwear, certain adult toys, lubricant). But when I picture my family members opening up cupboards and going through my drawers, the thought that makes me shudder with dread is of them discovering the cardboard boxes of old journals, school notebooks, angsty short stories, melodramatic romance epics, and other horrifying remnants of my youth.

Sure, we all struggle to define ourselves and find our place in the world, particularly in our youth. But we don’t all keep detailed written records.

In many ways, everything I wrote in my teens and early twenties is just as significant as anything I write today. The preteen soap opera-inspired novels, the doom and gloom poetry courtesy of my world-weary fourteen-year-old self, the rambling notes scrawled to friends in Spanish class – these were precursors to all that has come after, up to and including this very blog entry. But this doesn’t mean that they should ever be exposed to another living soul. I mean, if reading them makes me blush while sitting alone in my own home, how would my parents react to such horrors?

I could easily solve this problem with a paper shredder, yet I can’t bear to part with these cardboard box time capsules. It would be like throwing away a big chunk of my life. And if we forget who we were, how will we know who we are?

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I Am Legend

Earlier this year, I attended the retirement dinner of a well-respected architect. In his mid-70s, he is nearly as spry and just as passionate as he ever was. At the dinner, he shared stories of how he founded not one but two internationally successful design firms, landed his first big project, once took a mad scramble plane trip to England to deliver drawings on time, and his collaboration with legendary architect Philip Johnson. My favorite story involved his alma mater and a crumbling football stadium: when his firm didn’t make the shortlist to design the renovation of the stadium, the architect picked up the phone and essentially demand a recount. He explained that no other architect would put as much love and care into the building as he would. He won the project.

The architect’s stories got me thinking: When I “retire” many years from now, what stories do I want to tell? What memories do I want to celebrate? What do I want my literary legacy to be?

Like most writers – or all, if we are honest with ourselves – I want to tell stories about having my first book published, reading my first great review, even my first bad review. I want to celebrate that my second book was translated into twelve languages, and my third into thirty. And so on. I want my curriculum vitae to read like a literary catalog.

You call yourself a writer? You've never even published a book!

Your inner critic says: “You call yourself a writer? You’ll never even publish your own obituary!”

But what if I am never published?

How many times has this happened to you: You declare/admit/reveal to your co-worker/neighbor/barista that you are a writer. His or her immediate response is, “That’s great. Have you been published?”, thus perpetuating the belief that one is not a writer until one can prove it via paperback.

A writer pal recently remarked that she’d better find a publisher for her sci-fi/fantasy novel series, since she doesn’t know how to do anything other than write. I asked her: “What if you knew for certain that you would never be published? Would you still write?” She thought for a moment, and then answered, “Yes. Absolutely.”

We write because we love to write. But since we are human, we also crave validation that we didn’t spend all of those hours alone with our laptops for naught. We want strangers to love our books as much as we do. Can we be satisfied in knowing that our readership will never expand beyond supportive friends and family members?

Many people view their children as their greatest legacy; while I’ve never wanted to have kids, I’ve always wanted to write and publish books. I want to hold my newborn novels in my arms, clutch them to my breast, and nurture them as they nurture me.

Currently, I’m plugging along on the third draft of a novel. I may see my book published one day, hold it in my hand as tangible proof of a legacy that may outlive even the architect’s buildings.

But if not, at least this legacy will remain: She always loved to write.

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