Anyway, after my degree, I moved to Northampton, Massachusetts, to become a successful, widely published writer, and instead became a frustrated, mostly rejected one. But I'm not the dispirited type, and there were enough little successes to keep me from getting too discouraged along the way, so I kept with it and in fact grew more and more disciplined, which is the kind way to put it. More and more obsessed, maybe. I mean, I still write every single day, and if I don't, I usually don't feel very good. I sit down to it in the mornings mostly, except I'll have a couple of night sessions a week as well, after I get home from waiting tables.
Finally, getting back to the subject of your question: I started trying to form a book out of the material in Living Room as far back as 1999. I've always been a maker of books, ever since I stapled together a bunch of words and pictures at four or five years old. After staying with a slew of ideas for a number of years, you start to hear how they've been talking to each other, even if you weren't in tune enough to listen previously. I noticed how certain writings seemed like perfect answering palinodes of other pieces I'd penned literally years before (and almost completely forgotten about). Lines buried, lost in notebooks, bore resemblance to other lines from summers later. And there were so many other relationships between verses that I didn't catch until I began recycling ideas and tracing images and organizing things, putting the works in order.
Originally, I wanted to call the book Whiteness , with a nod to the Jabes quote that still leads it off, and I wanted an all-white cover and this whole Beatles-White Album thing, except that too many people thought the title was too racial, which honestly wasn't even an association I'd been aware of at first. So back then I'd had the book divided into sections for the colors of the prism that make up white light, but I really couldn't take that too far, because what makes a red piece of writing different from an orange one?
When I hit on Living Room, with my sister's help (Courtenay and I often brainstorm; she's a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa and one of my best readers), it suddenly occurred to me that I could lead off each subsection with one of my "littlestories," as I used to call my very short, single-line pieces, which would kind of thematically tie together the longer works ("Concrete Prose") that followed. (Incidentally, I'm not in love with either one of those names anymore, littlestories and concrete prose, although they might be almost accurate.) Anyway, after a while I started to see this arc(hipelago), as you eloquently called it; I started to discover what exactly my concerns were (and are), in essence by singing them and stopping and listening to how those concerns were hovering together in the air.
Sometimes, when I would come to a new level of understanding while I was reading through Living Room, and I would shift some pieces around because they seemed to resonate better with other pieces before and after them, I say sometimes, sitting there at my computer late at night or in the early morning, I would half expect to hear my manuscript begin humming, literally, because I'd finally gotten the arrangement just right. The fact that I never actually heard any music spontaneously murmuring out of Living Room only means that, happily, I have more books to write! (Or it means that such a thing can't actually physically happen, although I'm not one hundred percent willing to admit that just yet.) So here I am putting together a second manuscript now, which I'm calling Glass Harmonica , and the writings in it are strung together (based on the actual physical form of this curious musical instrument, the glass harmonica) in a much more predetermined way, thanks, in large part, to what I learned by my piecemeal making of Living Room.
Incidentally, when it comes to putting a book together, I've always been a fan of what I consider to be the ultimate literary arrangement of all time, Wittgenstein's Tractatus. That man could sense the precise analogical distance between each one of his thoughts, and he measured their conceptual lengths and put corresponding numbers alongside each ideological burst. In Glass Harmonica , I'm taking that as my example, in a way. That, and the progression of harmonic frequencies.
But for Living Room I was still very much in the throes of the mythological way of making sense. I'd absorbed my Graves and Joseph Campbell and Dungeons & Dragons at a young age. I wonder if Living Room is a kind of farewell to mythology, the record of my own shamanistic journey to a personal Paradise-alternative. A living room.
And now that I'm in that room, so to speak, and because I've always wanted to make something crystalline and perfect, I'm building a second book based on my conviction that language holds a code that unlocks some kind of secret. Something essential about the fault where figurative and literal relate.
On this note, when I was very young and had just discovered what death was (my Aunt Bernadette had passed away unexpectedly), I immediately thought that everyone must have this death thing all wrong. Many years later, I would find out that Freud had put words to my very thought: "Death is a failure of the imagination."
Anyway, even when I was that young, say, three or four, I was certain that someone had discovered the answer to everlasting life and inscribed it into a kind of code. I didn't care what I was told. If my family (which is a pretty well-read little crew) didn't know anything about it, that was only because they hadn't read deeply or widely or well enough. But then, of course, the more I read, the more I realized that everyone was just searching, and no one had found anything. Humanity had pretty much come to accept its mortality, and writers were only winning small and equivocal victories.