Alan Gurganes rather famously confessed that his novel “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All”, was not so much written by him, as it was received as dictation in a very proscribed manner in the wee-early morning hours between about four and five in the morning, until….
He told Charlie Rose in an interview not long after the books’ debut, that if he was late arriving in his over-the-garage writing room, the old widow would have given up and gone, and another day of material contribution to the story would be lost.
I find nothing strange or contrived in his story.
I find myself in a not terribly dissimilar predicament.
Charles McNair gave me an assignment. I took a break – a week, I thought – to accomplish it. But now that assignment has taken on a life of its own with his second assignment to edit the original, make it stronger – better – worthier of my effort and the digital trees scarified to its conception and birthing.
When I called up that muse to bring me the story for McNair’s assignment, I got a muse who obviously wanted to be heard. Her name is Dora and her story came swiftly, crudely, like a frightened child trying to tell me something she could not quite organize but had to get out – but there is substance to it – no matter how disorganized it appears right now. I want to do her the honor she deserves.
But now, my other ghost – the ghost who I’ve been working with for more than five years – is standing behind Dora with his arms crossed and a furrow in his brow, and he’s more than a little annoyed with my “shelving him” in favor of this disorganized, crazed little half-Indian girl. “Will” has been patient with me. He’s put up with my poverty, my geographic wanderings and lack of connection to the wider world of research (because I chose to go off-grid and live in a log cabin for two years, with no iNet, no running water, no electricity.) I think he found humor in seeing a 21st century descendant trying to make it in his world. But now that I’m back – his humor and patience are running thin. He’s not cutting me any slack at all.
Tonight I tried to explain to “Will” that this dalliance with McNair was about making me a better writer. About forging relationships with influential people who can actually get his story out there. I don’t know if he bought it – god I hope so. I hope he has patience. I need him to – because it’s actually his story that I need to tell, more so than any of the others.
The problem is that more ghosts are lining up behind my friend (my great-great-grandfather) Will.
More stories to tell. More almost-forgotten souls to reanimate. The room is filling up, and I can hardly hear myself think for the din they create. Accents and languages and lives lived in times and places and people that I have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding. For God’s sake, there is a man here with what I think must be three thousand head of sheep all swirling around him like dervishes! (Is that William of Brynterion? Is it his father, Richard? Maybe Richards’ grandfather? I need to find out just who he is!?)
Call me crazy. I don’t care. I still manage to show up to work on-time and do what’s needed. Balance my checkbook. Wash my hair. Brush my teeth. Fulfill the basic obligations.
But I’d sure love to have about three more lifetimes in order to figure out who all these people are, and three more after that to properly tell their stories.
I need them all to be patient. I got a late start. I am doing the best I can. They should have shown up sooner, before I spent half my life on worthless, trivial stuff. Man, what I would not give now for all that wasted time to be recovered to me.
Will, hang on. I am coming back to you. But I need to show this guy McNair that I am worthy of encouraging and helping. We both need him.