Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dear Marie Kondo -- from the archives!

Dear Marie Kondo,

I know that your book has helped many people pare down, and since a relocation has consumed me for much of 2017 – moving away from my Atlanta home of 9 years to begin a new life in Connecticut – I thought it might make sense to seek you out.

If I got it right, you tell people to ask -- as they inventory their things -- does it “spark joy”?

Except, Marie -- can I call you Marie? -- you don't understand how many things spark joy for me.

Or merely incite some kind of emotion inside.

Or, in the case of Elmo Peter Elson, represent a line in the sand. He’s my childhood teddy bear – and he’s dressed in my childhood clothes (a blue windbreaker with a faulty zipper and riotous 1970s toddler pants). I can’t throw him out now. (No, I don’t know why his name is Elmo Peter Elson.)

Elmo’s making the journey along with a cassette tape of U2’s “Boy” album that’s unspooled, and half-used notepads engraved with the name of my deceased uncle and a button for a failed political campaign where I volunteered 20 years ago, plus a vintage pin from Bayonne, N.J., my father’s hometown (because sometimes other people’s mementos, especially one’s parents, are even more potent than your own) and the pregnancy tester stick – positive! – that forget ‘changed my life’ – it gave me the life I didn’t know I was even craving. Also: bus, train and plane tickets, mainly to and from Italy, and a lot of Lira – Italy’s old currency -- that can no longer be used. But they’re like my bank statements from Cassa Di Risparmio di Firenze, which remind me that I was lucky enough to live long enough in the city of Dante to open up an account at the Florence Savings Bank. (I’ve also kept the Enrico Coveri scarf Melanie gave me and the plastic shopping bag she used to give it to me because while it is a relatively ordinary yellow and green plastic bag it is also instantly recognizable as a bag not produced in the US or used by a US retail establishment. Reason to keep it.)

Plus writing journals.

Lots and lots of journals, including ones from grammar school that I find unreadable (some thoughts should be kept inside, I’ve concluded.)

Lots of letters, too, including the one from a very dear friend that remains unopened and will likely stay in that virgin state until we die. You see, Marie, it’s a condolence card. Everything there was to know -- and everything we didn’t want to know -- is discernible on the outside of the card. Her careful handwriting, our names, the date stamp the week Mike’s father died -- without any need to open it. She is sorry and we are sorry and nothing can be done to erase the death that occasioned the card. To paraphrase the poet Donald Hall, the dead stay dead. So it’s still sealed but my God, Marie, how can I throw it out? Her kindness can’t be discarded.

I also still have Doug K.’s business card. In fact, I have two of them. I know what you're thinking -- who uses business cards anymore? Especially one for a man I last spoke to back in 2000. No, I don't need it. But you see, I do.

We named Doug Security Director of the Year in 2000, back when I was an editor on a trade pub that covered security systems and metal detectors and locks with audit trails.

He'd done such a bang-up job in his position as security director of -- wait for it -- the World Trade Center, that he won the annual contest that year. Security Director of the Year. In Doug’s case, it might as well have said ‘of the decade.’ His picture was on the cover and everything, with the two towers looming behind him. And then on Sept. 11 – you know the year -- I tried calling the number on the business card but I couldn't get through. You see what I mean, Marie? I've got to keep his business card. I need something to remember him by. Just like the page I ripped from an old calendar of New York. The last image I have of those Twin Towers. Where we went after we saw "Annie" on Broadway with Uncle Pat and Aunt Maureen, before they had children -- a thousand years ago, give or take.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

After the translation conference

I study the program, zeroing in on the participants' bios. The section where the gold is hidden.

That's what I do after the conference.

This is especially so of the American Literary Translators Association conference, which concluded in Rochester on Sunday. I still have the program from the 2016 edition, and until a few months ago, I would occasionally pore over the bios on nights when I desperately needed a distraction (and a dream), nights when I would climb into bed with a piece of chocolate.

I read the section with the participant bios like you might the box scores or the obits. They brim with details of a particular kind, details that are literary catnip.

Oh she published a translation there?

Oh he won that award?

Oooh, she studied there?

Like take this one above -- of Chad Post (I know Chad won't mind).

Doesn't he sound fancy?! Interesting? The cool thing is the ego factor is at a minimum at ALTA. People are truly nice and helpful -- even some of the ones who have accomplished the most.

Maybe it's because we all know we're beholden to a mission that is pretty difficult -- making Americans/Anglophone readers care about books written far away and in some cases long ago, in a different language.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Map of Jeanne's places

May 2019
I was out for a walk the other day before an early editing shift and I strolled over to the old cemetery -- the small one, the one I love, the one no one notices, the one with very old tombstones. And I thought, this is one of my places here in Connecticut. I don’t have many – I haven’t had time or the inclination to build up walking routes in my “new” town. And I thought, I need a Map of Jeanne's Places.
It would be an unassuming map, for sure. The small pocket park you dead-end into if you make the left after Cosmos on Farmington. The UCONN Law School campus, a lovely Anglican-style (or so it seems) place buried in a neighborhood by Elizabeth Park (itself, another "point" on the map). 

And this cemetery, with its cherub-faced tombstones. 
Lost Diary entry