Friday, September 7, 2012

An End and a Beginning

A hard-cover composition book and a sharpened pencil--few things speak to me as strongly of possibilities, of new beginnings.

I remember sitting in Prospect Park on a beautiful Brooklyn morning, crying as I wrote and then re-read the touching story of a lonely seven-year-old girl crippled by polio. I was just seven myself, and this was the first chapter of my first writing project, my "book." I don't recall anything past those first bathetic pages--but what I do recall is the thrill of that empty notebook and that sharp no. 2 pencil. The thread that held the sewn-in pages of the composition book between its stiff black-and-white marbled covers gave the project both a permanence and a shape. One hundred pages, ready to be filled in.

A friend's recent death prompted some ruminations on ageing, on memory and memories and the shadows left by old emotions. And when I read the three pages I had written, sitting there at Starbucks, I suddenly knew I had both the prologue and the frame for a novel.

In my embrace of short stories and more recently flash fiction, I had not considered undertaking full-length fiction (my first book, finally completed late last year, came in at novella weight). It has been exactly sixty years since that afternoon in Prospect Park. 

So the first thing I did was walk over to the Office Max next door and buy a composition book.

Yes, my iPad and my MacBook Air have replaced the no. 2 pencils, but I keep the notebook with me, in the car, by my bed, for notes on the developing story. I'm looking forward to meeting this ageing woman who is to be at its center. 

The death of my friend Enrique marks the end of an era of my life, the longest and most interesting one. What I wrote that morning at Starbucks was a goodbye, but it was not a goodbye to Enrique, with whom I had long lost touch until the advent of Facebook. Rather, it was a goodbye to myself, to the me I would no longer be.

In a related development, as I’m sure they say at Channel Seven, I have also decided to sell my little yellow 1991 Miata, whose presence has been mostly symbolic for the past few years, and certainly in the year since I moved south. Miami, with its brutal mid-day sun, is a lousy place to run a roadster. (What's the difference between a convertible and a roadster? A convertible is a closed car with a top you can lower in beautiful weather. A roadster is an open car with a top you can [reluctantly, awkwardly] raise if the weather turns truly hideous.) I'd been taking the Miata out every ten days or so, mostly when I felt the need to announce to the public or to my acquaintances that I'm not the wrinkled old crone the mirror had reflected back to me that morning, but rather the sort of woman in whom a hot pulse still beat, the sort of woman who drives a yellow Miata.

The sort of woman I was in that long, strange trip of an era that ended with the death of Enrique Cárdenas in Miami last month, at 71.

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