As I take a step back and think about the short story, several picture books, several creative nonfiction essays, loads of blog posts, and uncountable haiku I have written and not published in the past year, I can't help but wonder what direction I should go in next. Every day I am bombarded by ideas, all of which I can't possibly work on. When September comes around again, and we are back to our normal work/school schedule what will I be working on?
I took advice from an old article in Writer's Digest, in which the author wrote about finding herself by digging up her past. The idea? Create a chronological List of Works. Quite literally, a list of every single thing I have ever written. Anything that made it as far as first draft edition counts.
I reminisced about the 1982, 2nd grade tome I wrote and illustrated for school entitled Animals. It was one of those 12x18 sized papers, chock full from cover to cover with poems, stories, art about all kinds of animals. It was truly a masterpiece. This great work from my youth then prompted me to take the time to dig, physically, through the past.
Most of my early works were lost to the closets of disinterest and bins of recycling. But a few things survived the last 30 years and I pulled them out- my first comic book, circa 1985, about a cute little Movie Mouse named Squeaker, a classic 5th grade poem about nature, and first drafts of college entrance essays all marked up in my mother's handwriting. I was pleased and amazed to find out what I really was thinking back then, and what I took the time to write down on paper.
Beyond paper, what was I thinking back then? I powered up my 1994 college laptop that has been resting in my closet getting to know the dust bunnies. Actually turning on the computer seemed a risky and uncertain thing to do, and I theorized the antique might explode. I wasn't even sure I had the power cord anymore.
After wading through the dust and finding the cord, it took mere minutes for the screen to light up! What an surprise. The machine itself is a black and white monitor, IBM thinkpad with a red track ball in the middle, complete with Windows version 3.0, which can be exited so you could get to a DOS prompt. The documents I found there were awesome. Namely a 100 item list of goals to accomplish in my life. Beyond that the usual course essays and papers, but also original stories.
Just turning that thing on brought me back to Ann Arbor, the thrill of getting my first computer in the dungeon of the Union, the memory of the discussion of how much it would cost my parents, taking the machine to the computer lab to print, and struggling to figure out how the hell to get online to use my brand new wonderful first ever email account. Damn.
Sadly, I tried to print the old documents, with no success. The computer froze when I hit print and I could not figure out how to shut it down! There was no START button like on this version of Windows and no prompt to turn it off.
The road pulled me a step further and I pulled out my second, 1999 computer. Here came more issues. The power cord connection was faulty, so halfway through starting up, it shut off. I managed to clear out the hole a little and make the connection stick, and eventually up came Windows 7. Ah yes, that feat of modernity that was the end all be all of home computing. This computer kept me company in a deserted desert, travelled the country with me, and ended up loaded with Rob's old original construction estimates. Soon after Cedar was born, we felt it was time to birth a new computer for our family, and the 1999 one was laid to rest.
It was a standing at the edge of a cliff side brazen attempt to download the current photosmart printer driver, to deal with this oldie. But I did. And just in the nick of time pulled off numerous old custody letters, short stories, and loads of once brilliant ideas I had. Thankfully this was a pre-digital camera computer for me, and there were no pix to capture.
It was a profound exercise, seeking out my writing past. Things I had completely forgotten came rushing back. And I realized that wherever I have been, whatever I was doing, my writing has always been there. Even as I thought I was capturing my thoughts onto paper, the paper and the microchips have captured me. Who I am- in words. It doesn't matter that my List of Works is highly unpublished. All those hundreds of thousands of millions of words I have been writing since I was 5 and just beginning to know what words were, reassure me that this is the right path. And I trust that this miraculous string of sentences that has led me to right now will send me safely right into the future of what great Works will next be added to my List.