Note: as a test, I’ve recorded an audio version of this week’s letter! I’d love to make this a regular feature of Sunday letters, and it’s the kind of project that becomes worth the time and effort through support from readers like you. If you haven’t already, please consider becoming a member.
I didn’t anticipate how much of a relief it would be to be out of our apartment. Almost everything Julia and I own is now residing, temporarily, in my parents’ garage. We retrieve items as we need them, but so far we haven’t needed much. I suspect this feeling of relief is in part from no longer paying double rent – rent on top of my new mortgage. But I think it’s mostly from being unencumbered, easily mobile, like right before going on extended travel, or moving to a new city. Maybe you know the feeling?
This reminds me of the movement – the moment – between drafts of a book. It’s helpful to write those early drafts, to learn the world, and furnish the space of the novel with characters and plotlines and settings. But the drafts themselves, the collections of those things, usually end up in a garage in the back of my mind (or in a sub-sub-folder in my dropbox). Instead of unpacking everything at once, it works better for me to start new drafts in a blank document and only draw on what I need, when I need it.
Sometimes the items are expected: laptop, toiletries, medication, charging cables, a bedside lamp, books being read, clothes for the season. Settings, character names, key relationships. The items can be trivial, too, but still essential: an extension cord, a utility knife, an opening or closing sentence to a chapter or scene.
Yet, I’d argue that the most essential things we bring back are the ones we’re often surprised we miss, because we miss them for reasons greater than the strictly utilitarian: candles, incense, spiritual artifacts, a dusty microphone, a certain yellow chair. The sense of humor in a particular conversation. A quiet mid-scene moment. A throwaway line or detail, that in this new space – even a temporary space – blooms with meaning.
A slightly different metaphor, seeded watching a house-hunting show on HGTV as I waited yesterday in the IKEA returns department: your first rough draft is your starter home. By living with it, by living in it, you learn what you really care about. You learn what’s part of your “forever” home. You take a step toward identifying, and furnishing, your final draft.
I actually find the idea of one fixed “forever” home simplistic, but I think it applies better to writing than its analogue. Every finished novel is, hopefully, a forever home, for the time that it’s written.