Yesterday, I gathered up 585,000 words, put them in a box on which I’d written “Jack’s Columns, 1986-2011 (2005 missing),” and walked with them and Henry (he used to walk me, now I walk him) up to the Pork Store, where I handed them over to one of my daughters, who had said, perhaps not knowing what she would be in for, that she’d like to make a book.
I’ll wager this beloved separator of wheat from chaff will be sighing by the time she’s done, if she’s ever done, but it was a nice thought, and, in a way, it was freeing to be rid of them. As with everything else in my corner office, they’d begun to pile up, week after week, year after year, decade after decade. If my sports pages, which are stacked about on the floor, continue to mount, I’ll have to escape to the attic, and when that too fills up, I’ll spread my wings and fly up to the sky.
I told her that when she realized she’d bitten off more than she could chew, I would send her 468,000 more words to cull! Those I’d written over the course of the 20 years I’d learned with. She had in her hands my life after that. Suffering (what I’m afraid I’ve visited upon her) was supposed to have taught me what to want, though, thankfully, I’d managed to get what I wanted without much of that.
She winced when I told her if her eyes began to glaze over she could burn them, that it would be okay. But she is a loving child and has set herself this task.
Her intention, I think, is to make this book for a very, very limited readership. Short essays, “loose sallies of the mind” as Dr. Johnson called them (that would be my preferred title), don’t sell much. Arthur Roth, one of my predecessors here, did far better with his young adult books than with the collection of his columns, even though Dwight Macdonald wrote the foreword.
So, having gone beyond 1,000,000 words, I am starting anew, with an empty manila envelope marked “2011 — Oct. 13-Dec. 29.”
I think, though I don’t know for sure, that the words — the right words, I hope — will come. And I would like to think the radiant light that burst through the blackened branches of our trees following the recent thunderstorm was a sign. Henry had been sitting, eyes lowered and curled up at my feet. I’d kept the window ajar because I love the wind, though Henry was right — it was a bit scary. And then the thunderstorm was gone and the beatific golden light appeared. I hopped up to get my camera from the love seat, but I couldn’t capture the immensity of it. The vision, though, was clear. Everything will be all right.