• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Regrets Collect Like Old Friends

Today we had a clean up day at the office and I decided to weed archived files. I thought the task would be time consuming, what I never expected were the intense emotions I felt upon seeing correspondence from three clients who had died, a beloved colleague whose emails over the smallest deals were always filled with the greatest enthusiasm ($500 from Turkey!!!), and my British agent who was like a father to me. Or the pride I still felt over the yellowed NYT reviews for some of the first books I edited or sold. THe little note cards filled with thanks and gratitude after a book was sold. The seven and eight page editorial letters. The jacket comps. Even the goodbye letters, like divorce papers, a rebuke of all you once did together and all you once had. For all those relationships that didn’t last, all the intensity long past; still, I’m sorry.

What does your paper trail tell?

29 Responses

  1. Egads, Betsy, I’m immersed in the same activity right now. I got emotional over receipts. All those transactions, representing desires, hopes, needs, for things, most of which I no longer have in my possession. It was getting an invoice for life spent and life wasted.

  2. I had done it. Same feeling. Cleaning up old things for new things. It was painful.

  3. The first pay stub from downtown Boston. Boston was the dream for this backwoods girl, and every time I look at it I can smell the cigarette smoke, touch the fall air, and the life pounding in my gut as I bounced along that sidewalk in my new thrift store suit.

  4. My paper trail says that I eat out a lot, buy too many books, and never remember to put kitty litter on the grocery list.

  5. My paper trail?
    Three file boxes of forgotten first to fiftieth fiction-drafts, one thin folder of rejections and two albums of all my tear sheets and clips. Plus, three zip drives and a computer documents file filed with thousands of synapse fire and misfires. If my house burns down, who I was and who I am as a writer, becomes nothing more than a pile of gray crumbs in the wind. It tells you that I tried, I failed and I succeeded? The question should really be…does it matter?

    • wry, i think it only matters insofar as we make it matter and even then i don’t know if it matters. i think it both does and doesn’t and i think i think too much and not enough. but how could that matter?

      • that wasn’t anonymous, that was me. fucking wordpress. moving the fucking goalposts as if it didn’t matter.

      • Awe shit Tet I knew it was you.
        I was thinking about this all morning and I realized it does matter, I mean the whole quest matters. As an example to my kids, that not giving up is the thing, matters. And, that some of the shit I’ve written has mattered in peoples’ lives, changed them even, (or so I’ve been told), that’s a heady responsibility.
        It has to matter; besides making a mean clam-chowda’, it’s the only thing I’m good at.

      • I found out something that really matters in the real world today at lunch when I went to get my mail from my PO Box. The PO is in a federal courthouse and the guards, who work for Federal Protective Services, Ltd., a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security, Inc., took umbrage at my faux swiss army knife and would not let it into the building with me. Something to do with defending the fragile Republic from whatever it is that threatens it and carries faux swiss army knives.

        Okay okay okay I know it does really matter and even a box cutter or a plastic knife can lead to terrible damage, and the FPS guys are nice and professional and they know me and everything was cool (except my knife, which has a two-inch blade and a useless corkscrew, had to wait outside)–and it matters. Not only that, it gave me writing matter, here and now, though not of the life-chaging variety.

        Sometimes I think that’s all I truly really want: to write something that makes some sort of positive difference to one person. And I know I’ve done that. And it isn’t enough. Not for me, anyway. I’m such a greedy bastid.

  6. I saved little notes & things from my mom, who died way too young. Also – from my hippie days in the cabin with a very sick newborn – a pile of letters from my friend in NJ. We were super young and had no money for phone calls and those letters saved my life. They’re tied with a ribbon in my attic right now.

  7. “What does your paper trail tell?”

    Not as much as it used to, since I recently moved and tossed out a bunch of stuff–cards, letters, notes, rejections telling me how much they liked my stuff but they just couldn’t use it, previous drafts of revised revisions, etc.–but there’s still so much and most of it is digital now and just like the paper copies I’m almost certainly never going to need it but since it’s all tiny tiny electrons now arrayed across infinitesimal chips of treated silicon suchlike, it lingers on.

    And what my paper and electron trail tells is pretty much the same story that anyone else’s tells: loves lost, dreams deferred, delusions denied, minor achievements bringing passing joy, lies told when truths were too scary, truths told when lies were too frightening, memories of the dead, smiles once most beautiful, eyes once opening onto souls, all of it so terribly important and inescapably evanescent.

  8. I have boxes and boxes of writing mementos that somebody else will have to toss someday. The one time I tried to thin it out, I ended up putting it all back. I did find some fun stuff in a box in the garage, including a receipt for a doctor appointment for my husband. Handwritten: Office visit. $5.00.

  9. I have a letter from E.B. White to my mother.

  10. My paper trail indicates that I need to work on penmanship. I trail poem drafts and shopping lists, all much less romantic than it sounds.

  11. Betsy, maybe these could be archived? I know you don’t want to hear this, but how fascinating are these correspondences for people who love writing and want to understand how things work. Abner Stein, I loved his missives.

  12. I loaned my mother a book and in it she found a folded-up court order for mediation with my ex-husband. I actually remember trying to read that book while across the mediator’s waiting room the ex’s new wife was carrying on a loud conversation advising him on what he should say about ‘my behavior’. Those were the good old days.

    • I’d LOVE to hear about your “behavior,” Averil. Are you sure you don’t have a memoir in you?

      • Really I don’t. My ‘behavior’ consisted mainly of things like letting my teenage daughter walk home from school, something no good mother would ever ever do. Or the time I (correctly) diagnosed my son with a cold and not some life-threatening illness requiring emergency care. Oh, and my tee-shirts are too tight and covered with incendiary words like ‘liberal’ and ‘one world’. Nothing to write a book about, though the pair of them sure as shit filled my email box for a lot of years.

      • There are boring-er things on the bestseller list, I would imagine. You could write the hell outta the phone book, in my not-so-humble opinion, with a few girlie photos thrown in for some dash.

  13. Where does your paper trail lead?

    About five years ago I manually shredded a whole desk worth of bills and other shit I lost my patience with trying to assess and then in a fit of media-induced-identity-theft-paranoia I peed on it before I put it out in the trash. What I really hope is that I didn’t get rid of all the things like my thesis adviser’s response or letters of encouragement, that while they were rejections, were so generous and wonderful to receive. Also letters of acceptance and the like. I think I saved them but in my aversion to things piling up might have been foolish enough to get rid of. Peeing on something random like a giant trash bag is a lot harder and takes more concentration than you might think. It’s about time to empty the stuff room again for me.

  14. Worse than files, cleaning and rearranging bookshelves—we installed a wall of them recently and I spent a week touching every volume I owned. I almost went insane. But didn’t. And came away with a new empathy for hoarders. If you touch it with intent to access value, whatever it is, book, or letter, receipt, or hobby item, yarn or paint or colored pencil, you are forced to remember all the hope and joy of future forward thinking you gave it once. And once is gone.

  15. That I’m capable of some horrible writing, but sometimes someone makes me think it’s good enough to keep at it–and that I have.

  16. Problem is I’ll hang on to paper seemingly forever and then in a fit of pique I’ll toss them, fold them, or shred them, and a day or week or month…whatever later, and damned if I discover I suddenly need that particular piece of paper. Held it forever, let it go, and the false gods stick it to me every time. Screw paper trails. Like crumbs dropped by Hansel & Gretal and once dropped and eaten you can never find your way back again.
    Which brings up another sorta paper trail that has haunted me. Virtual paper, if you will. Can’t tell you the heartbreak of books, partials, etc. written on WordPerfect then converted to Microsoft word then updated to some other update of Microsoft and then nothing but little boxes mocking the words once there. Fried and corrupted and forever lost. Poof!

  17. What does your paper trail tell?

    That I’ve killed lots of darlings…, maybe the wrong ones.
    That I’ve had a lot of starts and stops.
    That I am a pack rat.
    That even though I have forgotten the reasons I’ve saved some scraps of paper, I can’t bring myself to throw them out because I might remember…
    That I like a schedule (grocery shopping every Friday, bills paid on the same day)
    That I’m still here…

  18. I love that you use a Florence + the Machine lyric for this post’s title. Nicely done.

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