What are you working on? What’s on your desk?
While the desk upon which I permanently hang my beanie is located in New York City, I have, of late—and thanks to unforeseen life changes (i.e.: getting dumped: fuck you, you-know-who-you-are)—found my desk in a variety of geographies over the past eight months: Los Angeles, California; Peterborough, New Hampshire; Amarillo, Texas; Santa Fe, New Mexico, to name a few. Basically anywhere and everywhere I can write and complete the historical research for the second novel I’m working on. It has a working title of Lipshitz Six, and concerns approximately three generations of a Western-Russian Jewish family that perishes in the pogroms, partially escapes the pogroms, leaves Russia entirely (the city of Kishinev specifically), ends up on Ellis Island, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and finally in the panhandle of Texas—thanks to a little-known, basically philanthropic endeavor of the early 1900s called the Galveston Movement. Since some of my own family came to Texas in this manner, my poring over historical documents, books, newspapers, and the like has been enlivened by conversations with the few still-surviving family members with whom I hadn’t previously had occasion to speak. Photographs, newspaper clippings, and other documents have generously been produced for me, and I’m feeling so fortunate to have the opportunity to appreciate them before they are tossed away after someone’s death, or decompose. My novel takes place between about 1903 to 2003, and I have on my various, borrowed desks a ripped manila envelope containing the first 186 pages of the book, printed on the reverse side of someone’s novel for which I recently completed a blurb, which mentions Holden Caulfield and/or The Catcher in the Rye no less than three times.
I do have some books on my desk: I just completed Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer and a memoir by Ralph Berton entitled Remembering Bix, which is about the great (but tragic) hornblower Bix Biederbecke, and has taken me a year to complete. On deck are The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life by Camilla Gibb and Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron. And finally, on every desk of mine in every city, and because it’s not heavy to transport, and I have a thing about having skipped it in college, there is Aristotle’s Poetics. I’ve been reading and rereading the mumbo jumbo about how the historian’s job is to tell what happened, while the poet’s job is to tell what might’ve happened. It’s a small distinction, but it helps enormously with my current endeavor.