The contents of my life


This world of ours is piled high with farewells and goodbyes of so many different kinds, like the evening sky renewing itself again and again from one instant to the next - and I didn't want to forget a single one.
(Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto) 

When a pot of water on a stove comes to boil it makes a bubbling sound. The gurgling grows louder and seeing the foam begin to rise, I lift the glass lid and lower the temperature. I poke and stir the mushroom and chicken filled dumplings in the water with a spatula, wishing them to float up faster. In life, it's hard to tell when something has started or is mid-way to an end. Unpredictable. A friend recently told me big changes often occur in the grey, in those moments in between the extremes.

Right now it is raining and I'm typing at the kitchen counter under the dimmed pendant lights, the shadows of my fingers follow the pressing and clicking of the keys. There are a few hazy pink drops at the bottom of my transparent tea mug, cold by now. I'm looking at the stack of A6 journals I finished writing in the past year. I have taken them out of hiding to examine this evening, and to add the recently finished January-early March journal to the pile. I have kept a journal since I was a child, but it had always been a sporadic kind of thing. It has only been since this past year when I started writing every day and has become a daily ritual, like brushing my teeth, something I do because it has to be done and feels better afterwards. 

Whenever I reach the very last page, I continue onto the cardboard page on the back right before the back cover. To give the last entry some breathing room, I tend to set the finished notebook aside and return to it a day or two later. In the meantime, I inspect the empty notebooks on my bookshelf and decide which one I will write in next. Even though they are nearly all identical, all a soft white cover Leuchtturm1917 pocket notebook with either blank or lined pages, choosing one is like selecting a ripe watermelon. I have to give each one a gentle knock and listen for the hollow sound, promising sweetness. 

Once I am ready to sift through the finished notebook, I skim the pages in search of something that catches my attention. A memory deemed pretty or interesting enough to note, a passage that stands out, something I think I'd want to remember. The first two sheets contain a table of contents where I note a word or phrase to summarize a specific entry, noting the page number. These notebooks have 121 pages, which fit at most 3 months of my life. There are several hard cover ones, 185 pages, containing a 5 month archive. I forgot to mention, I also number each notebook on the inside of the front cover and attach a sticker on the cover with the start/end date range to make it easier for my future self to reference. 

One of my favorite things about keeping a daily journal is being able to refer to where I was exactly a year ago on the same date. For example, today in 2020, I returned from a walk at the pond and promised myself I would close my laptop by 6pm every work day. On this same week, I had stood by the kitchen window, leaning into the sunlight, witnessing a wet wipe fall out of neighboring window and twirl in the air like the plastic bag scene in American Beauty. It was the week we bicycled to a home furnishing store to look for a kitchen mat that would serve as a standing desk mat, the week we watched Altered Carbon on Netflix every night. The week my mom stopped by to drop off some food, and I saved the little chicken sticker she stuck on the container to hide the price or ingredients on the label. When the cluster of purplish blue crocus popped up on the bottom of a fence and I crouched down to take their picture. That made me so happy, as it did today too. This afternoon I saw the same flowers, their velvety petals closed, hiding their delicate orange centers. 

There is a hint of a new season in the air, the scent of wet soil, friend potatoes and onions riding the breeze. Last autumn's leaves pilled at the doors of closed restaurants and nail salons, like uninvited guests overstaying their welcome, have been scooped away. The skeleton waving in the attic window in the house at the pond is gone. March started with sunlight traveling across the kitchen, the days getting longer, shorter, colder, warmer, then longer again. I miss seeing the skeleton with his blue mask, his arm outstretched on the window frame in a permanent hello. I got used to seeing him there and don't feel ready for the goodbyes and farewells, I don't think anyone ever is.

 

The Lost Suitcase

The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life by Nicholas Delbanco is a collection of eight essays, with an eponymous novella in the middle. Delbanco's essays contain insightful personal reflections and lessons from his experience as both a writer and a teacher. The novella is unlike anything I've read before, a fictional experiment where the author takes the reader through several alternate scenarios and character interpretations. 

The story follows Ernest Hemingway's fictionalized first wife, AnneLise (Hadley) losing a suitcase containing all of his life's work on a train journey from Paris to Switzerland (based on real events). In the first scenario, AnneLise is a naive and absentminded young bridge who forgets to keep her eyes on the suitcase and runs to his embrace for forgiveness. In another, she purposely abandons the suitcase with the "unclaimed and unwanted" items at the station as revenge for his relentless infidelity. In my favorite version, she is both his teacher and muse, opening the suitcase out of boredom and curiosity in her train car. After reading the disappointing drafts, she contemplates discarding the suitcase to force him to start from scratch without confrontation. Instead, she delivers the suitcase to him and asks him never to publish any of it. He "yields" and together they come up with a stolen suitcase story. He hides it out of sight until many years later, alone, he opens that memory. Their relationships is ripped apart in all versions, the contents of the suitcase being the substance of their marriage. 

 

But this story of theirs is remembered; this object feels totemic and when he returns to it, as AnneLise predicted, not after her death but the death of their marriage, not in twenty or in thirty years but forty years thereafter, when he opens it once more the wind that coursed through the cedars down the mountain and then through the bedroom in Schrunz comes gusting out replete with that most private grief, the past.

 

An interesting fact I discovered while reading this book, the contents of the suitcase were actually published in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast memoir after his death.


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