Last Wednesday I was up in the attic of the old house in Wellington where I’ve stashed boxes of stuff connected with writing. Some of it goes back a long time, to the late 1960s – earnestly labelled notebooks. I didn’t look at them. It was a bit like crossing the road to avoid someone you quite like but don’t want to have to talk to. Mostly, though, the boxes contain drafts of books that I kept because I thought I might want to come back to them and use bits that had been edited out. I never have. Now, their uselessness is a kind of comfort. No pressure!
Because I’ve made my living precariously as a freelance writer for extended periods of time, there are lots of boxes irritably labelled 'projects'. Some of these 'projects' saw the light of day, many didn’t. I guess I kept the strike-outs for the same reason I kept drafts of books – in case they might be worth coming back to. They never are. This, too, is comforting. New ideas may not always be better, but they are always more optimistic.
There are boxes of things evasively labelled 'treasures'. One contained a sliding-lid pencil-case with funny hot-poker drawings on it that my son Carlos made when he was at primary school thirty years ago, the wooden mould-template for a car universal joint that Frank Stark gave me as a birthday present about as long ago as the pencil-case, and other objects about which floats a miasma of vague guilt – objects that should have been thrown out years ago but weren’t because I couldn’t bear to; and their close relatives, the objects that I wanted to throw out but knew I’d be cursed if I did (neither the pencil case nor the wooden mould template belong to either of these categories, though one is useless but interesting, while the other would be useful if I needed a pencil-case, but is in fact also useless but, in its case, emotionally beautiful).
There are boxes labelled 'family snaps' that I know will reveal weirdly scrambled narratives of time and place when I get around to looking into them, which, I swear, I will, some day, sooner or later.
Because we’re leaving, 'the kids' have cleared their boxes of junk out, and there are strange bare rectangles on top of the MDF flooring which are like the ghosts of evacuated secrets, which I suspect will haunt their hoarders for years to come, until they finally give up and toss the collections of beer-cans, munted hardware, and dysfunctional video cameras.
Boxes of tax returns, of long-ago-anachronistic exhibition pamphlets and catalogues, of 'research material' whose purposes have been gnawed into filigreed ruins by the industrious silverfish of the redundant. Boxes that I suspect (but am not going to check) contain things I was meant to do when I got time.
I imagine what a liberation it will be when I get up in the morning and the attic in my head will be full of a new day’s early morning sunshine and precious little else. But I also know this isn’t going to happen – not, at any rate, until the condition quaintly known as AD (suggestive of an immensely long time-span of memory) sets in, when the pencil case and the wooden universal joint will come into their own, since it won’t matter anymore whether they signify anything or nothing. For now, I furtively look for a place where they can stow away.
I get up early hoping
I’ll encounter the line drawn
under night time, the red streak
that bisects the shadow of
dawn standing up, horizon
of dark buildings in the east
whose windows begin to flash,
the gassy aquamarine
sky pouring itself into
the gaps between high-rise glass,
laser-streaks of gulls lit by
the afterburn of early
sunrise over there where hope
and unwise, but worth getting
up early enough for, to
remember why you do this.