I don’t know if Opening Prayer is going to be my last book, and maybe that’s the best way to proceed. It seems that I have to live the books as I write them, and every lurch forward involves some sort of sacrifice, a giving up of what I no longer need, assuming I ever needed it to begin with. Last year, I decided to burn my notebooks, starting with a little gray journal I kept when I was 12 and solemnly declared in secret that I was an atheist. The stack was almost two feet high — Big Chief notebooks, school folders, loose-leaf binders, fancy little Moleskines, you name it. I’d already dredged through the lot when I wrote a memoir a while back, and I knew that the entries were mainly just grousing and existential agonizing, familiar stuff to most writers. Still, it represented a lifetime of diligence, a sense of self. I started burning the oldest one first, then the high school pieces, then college. After 20 minutes, I still had most of my adulthood left and the ashes were filling up the fireplace, so I put the rest in garbage bags and left them on the curb for the weekly trip to the landfill. “Wet garbage” as they say in recycling. Earth to earth.
That was a good feeling, getting rid of all that paperwork. I felt lighter, unburdened. You’ll notice fire as a theme in this book, and I keep in mind that creation depends on some sort of destruction, a tearing apart or reconstitution, as in cooking, carpentry or religious conversion. To be reborn completely, we have to die completely, no fudging. I’m 65. I’ve given up being a writer several times, and I keep trying to reach the silence that makes a place for language, that allows it to be understood, and a language that points to silence. At times, I think I’m making real progress. Then something happens.