Our letters home offer a detailed record of our travels around the world. They connect times and dates with location and give details we have long forgotten. But to choose something to write about from all of this information is not easy: there’s too much there. To bring the material forward and make it relative now is even more difficult. Maybe that’s why the letters remain in their box.
And the enigma why I haven’t touched the letters may lie in part in the process I use. This may explain it. But I find it remarkable that I haven’t been more straightforward and haven’t always acknowledged my models such as Joyce and Woofe. I find it equally remarkable that I haven’t found a model to help me utilize my letters. I don’t think I’ve read enough; but I would first have to make up my mind whether I wanted to cast the letters in fiction or non-fiction. The details would be the same in either case, so why would it matter? People, places, and things: that wouldn’t change. The rest would have to come from my imagination, for the letters only provide details and not the story.
James Joyce in the short stories of his DUBLINERS seems to have selected detail very carefully; and he didn’t tell everything. With our letters, the days they represented on the days we found time to write them, we gave as much detail as possible; we tried to tell everything. I am afraid there is too much there. And I don’t have (as Joyce did with Dublin) the personal connection with these places. Over there I was an outsider and would’ve always remained one. There was little over there that I could claim; whereas it’s hard to divorce me from my hometown. When I think of Irving Texas and at the same time have thoughts of Bombay, I have a more passionate (even tempestuous) response to thoughts of where I grew up.
My grandfather Daddy Carder’s death was the end of one large family cycle, containing seven smaller ones, and these broke off after his death. There were no more Thanksgiving reunions; there was less back and fourth. Major writers from James Joyce to T.S. Elliot and Virginia Woolf have focused on the circular nature of life (I realize Joyce, Elliot, and Woolf were contemporaries, but there are many other examples) and have made these patterns (some daily, others life-long and intergenerational) central to their work. W. Y. Tindall, in his book JAMES JOYCE HIS WAY OF INTERPRETING THE WORLD (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950) devoted a whole chapter to cycles in Joyce and others
Unifying a body of work or bringing unity to a single one, as in life: paying attention to cycles can bring form to something that otherwise wouldn’t have any. There is no way we can overlook the cycle we live: from birth to death, the deterioration in that process. Somewhere in that scheme we can also find renewal, as we search for eternity, infinity, and God. (As Tindall put it, writers, “immersed in temporal flux, have been preoccupied with eternity.” And Shakespeare, I might add, with “bottomlessnes.” “Some of them, (Tindall again) like Aldous Huxley and T.S. Eliot, have attempted to exchange the cycle of time for the still point at the center.”) My writing, so far, hasn’t taken me into these waters (waters, a simple analogy that I can handle), and though I may risk drowning (or criticism or ridicule), I think it’s where I want to go.
But our world has changed. We no longer live in the age of Joyce, Huxley, Eliot, and Woolf. It has been well over fifty years, nearly a life-time. Yet I feel I have to go back there. I want to learn and think. I take that seriously and hope it’s not too late. As everyday is a cycle, not quite at the end of a major one, maybe there’s still a chance…to incorporate some of the things that now excite me (and I’m just learning about and some original thoughts) into my writing.