“Do you remember in October when it was not? When it was one long, drawn-out dizzying spell of thick heat and then tapering warmth, the Indian summer that would not leave and I couldn’t help thinking that maybe it was you hanging on, that maybe that summer was supposed to be YOURS, finally, and all that longing and wishing forced itself into the universe like a tripped wire. All I wanted was for the summer — that terrible season of loss — to end.”
— Excerpted from my work-in-progress, a book about my experiences with my late brother.
Video description: A 4-second-long glitched gif of my brother’s hand on his journal. The visual embodiment of a trip wire. On the page of the journal he is touching is a poem he wrote. (Image by him; gif by me.)
There is something to be said about artifacts. About the lost and the found. About objects that collect dust yet hold some unspoken psychic weight, often just out of reach. My brother’s apartment was like a museum of his mind. A mental mausoleum, filled with objects that had varying degrees of meaning.
Below I riffed on several details I remember, each falling loosely into one or another arching themes. This is an exercise adapted from Writing True: The Art & Craft of Creative Nonfiction* to help generate memories and details. The idea is this: write enough memories and details down, and you’ll start to see themes and patterns emerge. Those themes and patterns can help inform structure and connective tissue for essays and chapters.
Beauty: stacks of fresh laundry. skirts and blouses and nylons. an array of scarves in all kinds of colors. piles of costume jewelry. glittering boxes filled with trinkets: coins, a marble, a pin missing a back. a necklace missing its stone. a broken clasp. vases with dried out flowers, their petals collecting at the base. nail polish. rings. makeup on the sink.
Spirit: candles line the bay windows. there are long, thin tapers and short, squat ones. black and white and orange and pink and red. it is an altar. it is a chamber. it is my favorite spot in your apartment.
Neglect: the top of the stove is blackened with soot and dirt and food. dirty dishes are piled in the sink. in the cupboard, there are several boxes of mac and cheese. for some reason i reach for one, then the other, then the other until i find that all of them have been ripped open, cheese packets removed, then placed back. the bed is covered in clothes and notebooks and there is a newspaper on the floor.
Interruption: a mostly-gone pack of smokes, one lucky one turned upside down. journals litter your bed and the floor. they start and stop at odd times. there is no continuation. it is not linear. others are stuffed into a plastic container with legal and medical papers. a half-empty cup of cold coffee and mostly-eaten bowl of vegetable soup rest in front of your armchair on a small side table. one lone green bean floats in the bowl.
— maybe you’ll come back
— please come back
*”Writing True” was a text I read in graduate school. It’s enjoyable, accessible to all regardless of education level, and is reasonably priced. In addition to having several prompts and exercises to generate writing, it helps you delve into other things like structure, different nonfiction styles, and using research to bolster your work. It also includes fabulous examples of many different types of creative nonfiction.