The Garage of Forgotten Manuscripts

Janie was suspended from sports camp Wednesday and Thursday.

As far as we can piece together, she thought a kid she’d been playing with had bitten her on the arm—although it appears he simply crashed into her teeth first—so she hauled back and slapped the crap out of him.

She was immediately, hysterically contrite and the other kid accepted her apology, so the counselors might have given her a pass . . . except the other kid still had a red handprint on his face when his mother showed up.

Yeah . . . I know.

So I took Wednesday off and we cleaned the garage, or at least half of it.

There were unpacked boxes from our move four years ago*, a fencing mask, more coffee mugs than I care to count, three cartons of VHS tapes, enough craft supplies to bedazzle Chicago and swathe Detroit in faux fur, a diaper bag full of newborn-size diapers, several unexpected boxes of my childhood detritus that Dad must have sneaked onto the pile during each of his visits**. . . and spiders.

So many spiders.***

There was also a stockpile of writing stuff—files, stories, research, supplies, and so forth—that was part of the reason I’d volunteered to sort out that section of the garage.  My husband has no sentimental attachment to my writing clutter, which makes him a dangerous man when he decides enough is enough—and while I doubt my alma mater is going to want to archive this stuff as anything more than shredded packing material for the ephemera collections, I wanted to be the one to decide when to let it all go.^

I managed to consolidate a few boxes of research and put some supplies onto the hood of my car for later, which is how the butt-ugly Christmas mug broke, because I nudged it with the half-ream of printer paper—not on purpose—and it slid off, hit a box, and exploded.

Janie looked at me and said, “You made the mess, you clean up the mess.”

But she did get me the dustpan.

After I swept up, I checked the contents of the box.  Underneath a layer of butt-ugly mug shards, was a document box  of first chapter feedback from a story called The Significance of the Mouse—long since shipwrecked—that I’d taken to my first Iowa Summer Writing Festival, about a week after I found out I was pregnant with Janie.  Who is now eight and two-thirds.

Underneath the box was a big, Hawkeye Yellow plastic bag o’ First Novel feedback from the ISWF workshop I’d taken a week before I became pregnant with Sunny.  Who is now four and a half.

Clearly the Festival has a strange effect on my reproductive cycle, but I’m not planning to draw any parallels (or point out any contrasts) to my productivity in other areas or comment further on the coincidence^^ so y’all can just relax.

I went through it all last night.

Yeah.  I know.  But what was I gonna do?  Write?

But it wasn’t all bad.  Some of the comment made me sigh (“I didn’t comment on this because I don’t read genre fiction.”) or wonder (“The horse whickered.” you mean snickered) or cringe (“This is an okay first draft, I guess—needs work.”).  But the rest made me feel better about the whole thing (“You made this seem logical and real!”  “Can I read the rest?”  “Too cool!”).

Mouse had more of the former.  First Novel had more of the latter.

Much better than the other way around.

I didn’t know what to do with it all—I couldn’t just pitch it, despite the risk of being featured on Hoarders—so I separated the comment pages from the chapters,  filed them with their respective manuscripts,^^^  and recycled the rest.

I don’t know whether I should take another look at either or both stories , or just enjoy the nostalgia and the happy thought that I’ve improved along the way . . .

But at the very least, I have half a clean garage.


*Mostly glassware that we won’t need until we’ve broken all the stuff we did unpack.

**Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m on to you, mister. . .

***And bug husks.  I don’t what kind of arachnid is capable of hollowing out that many cicadas, and I never want to find out.

^ Or, as I like to put it, let those stories die.

^^Except to say that I’m not planning to return until medical science confirms that there will be no further coincidences.

^^^Of course I have hard copies—I have several.  Each.