Hello from Heirloom:

a serialized fiction in four fragments

I’ve sent out 37 of these essays, but I’m not a writer. I’m mostly pretending to be a writer.

I guess I’m really pretending to be an essayist, because I’ve sent out 37 of these things but they usually don’t go over a couple thousand words. I believe that being a proper writer- of proper books and stories- requires skills that I do not possess. Namely long-term focus.

These newsletters are quick dives and if they were any longer, I would likely get bored and do something else. Like a dog, I’d trot around the corner following some delicious smell and tip over some other trash can. Maybe I’m a victim of modernity, conditioned to accept only bite-sized information, etc. Maybe medication might help me be a writer (which is a sentence many writers may actually say.)

But for all my lack of long-term focus, I tend to dive deep. I may only have the attention span of an ant, but like a magnifying glass, in a few seconds on a bright day I can eat all the way to the bottom of the ant pile. This is another reason that I’m a bad writer. Sometimes writers of stories have to spend whole days just bobbing on the surface- cracking a plot, making scenes that only exist for structural reasons; to build a cohesive story or to shove the plot around until it's right where they need it, etc… I don’t get that. I’m natively attached to moments and perspectives. Not to stories, really.

Why am I telling you this? Because I accidentally started a novel. And I have to stop it now, because I’ll never finish it and I’m wasting my time.

I’m sure some of you are already thinking that I should just do it anyway. Or you’re thinking that you might use my own words against me, as some of these newsletters have already included possible solutions to this problem- things like committing to something is more important than talent in skill building. Use your weaknesses as strengths. Or take advantage of your particular design. And who says novels have to have some kind of conventional story structure anyway?
Just put one foot in front of the other until you're done.
The Abhayahasta Hand (detail)

But my reason for not writing a book is the same reason that I’m not a photorealist painter. I’m not passionate about the craft. And there are already people who do it better. I could start to exercise the muscles required to write this story (or paint a teapot to look as if it would roll off the page) but it would take time and there are people who have already dedicated their lives to doing work that I can’t. If you want photorealism, get the thing that takes photos- a camera. If you want a story, get a writer. These insane people are inclined to break stories with ease- they love to write plot twists and turns, character motivations- all the infrastructure work that good stories require. I start down that road and my eyes glaze over. My head swims, I can’t hold it all in my mind at once. The only way to stop the fuzz is to slowly turn the focus ring until I can see a moment: A grove on a hillside, all dry yellow grass and drab oak leaves. I keep focusing until I can see a man on a ladder, tying bottles onto tree branches. It’s hot and the bottles twist in the breeze. At the base of the tree is a old milestone marker with odd carvings, almost like a headstone…

Sweeping Up After the Party (detail)
THAT I can do all day long. But that won’t add up to a conventional novel. It’s perspective, observation, journalism. But not The Hero With a Thousand Faces. And all the work required to make it a story; the plotting, the outline, the stitching together of scenes to build an arc- the real work of real writers- would put me right out of it. Furthermore, the result would be mediocre at best. Not befitting the beauty and strangeness of this place I can see.
So I’ve had glimpses of this thing lying around for years. It’s in paintings, comics, songs. Parts of it are only accessible through QR codes. It’s a world, well maybe not a whole world, it’s just a town. The landscape looks like it does a couple hours north of me, sloping yellow hills dotted with oaks and manzanitas. Like Tehachapi sort of, with fearsome mountains in the far distance like a fence, keeping it all in. It’s a town called Heirloom. There’s a Mayor, and a Milk Man. There are golems, and half breeds and an overgrown Huck Finn who wears the fearsome aspects of Gods that he has stolen or won. There's an old warplane that is always near but never lands, and giants who crawl around the countryside on all fours looking for enlightenment. There was a tragedy in this town, but I have no interest in figuring out exactly what that tragedy was. I can only seem to focus in on the aftermath- what people do when trying to put together broken pieces. That shadow hangs over everything that comes and goes in Heirloom.

All that being said, the reason I’m writing to you now is because the other day, 4000 words of this story just showed up. The next logical step would be to outline a plot, write motivations, define who these characters really are, etc. And I did some of that, but I did just enough to realize that I'm not that kind of writer. But I really like the work as-is, little snapshots of a mystery, so I found another way of getting this out there. Maybe I’ll look back on it in a few years and see the real story laid out behind me like breadcrumbs from the witch’s house. Maybe it will eventually become something like Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, one of my favorite things ever made. Or some kind of mixed-media website. But I can’t beat myself up for not wanting to make a book out of it.

So I’m going to try something different with this newsletter. Below is one of the chapters- about the man and the bottles in the trees. Also included are some comic pages and art that I made a long time ago then promptly put away somewhere because they had no branch to hang from. I know now that they’re disparate parts of the same vignette, made some 5 years apart.

And next week I’m going to send another vignette, with art. And another the week after that. Until you have 4 chapters of a story that doesn’t exist and, like an old homemade quilt, is filled with warmth but doesn't quite match. Even though it's a little disjointed, this is the clearest way to show you the work. And show you how this process goes for me. The role of intuition. I am attempting to use that funny shape I am, to do it the best way I can figure how.

My apologies to all the real writers in the room, and to those of you who only subscribed so you can receive stories about art history. But I'm only pretending to be an essayist, so sometimes my own work will bleed through. Anyway, enjoy.
Sweeping Up After the Party (detail)

Part 1: Joshua, The Milk Man

Joshua was walking along carrying the ladder, his arm through the rungs; a side digging into his shoulder. His face was flush with the labor of it. After all, he wasn’t young but a job was a job. When the Mayor gave you a task, there was no getting out of it. It was a toss-up between him and the kid, but he won out for obvious reasons. And that opinion wasn’t based on the fact that the kid never woke up. You could get out here sleepwalking once you’ve done it a couple times. And as for the work, all you had to do was lean a ladder and climb. And you could get a handle on where the other bottles were based on the sounds of the wind in the trees. But there was more than a lack of sight wrong with the boy and until he sorted that out, well, there was no relying on him for the task. It would be a tough burden for any one with an axe to grind. The ladder doesn’t sit well if you already got a chip on your shoulder.

He could hear the engine of the plane before he was part way up the tree, and it wasn't an unusual sound. He settled his feet into a rung, locked his knees and reached into his bag to pull out the bottle. He found the loose end of the rope which was tied around it, and looped it around a high branch. He didn’t care for the elevation- even 15 feet up gave him a dry mouth and a tenseness in his muscles. Sometimes he flinched if he accidentally leaned too far, and boy wouldn’t that be the living end- to flinch yourself into falling for real. It wouldn’t kill him of course, but a turned ankle or another busted shin bone out here would be a real chore.

The plane was above the tree- moving right to left. Circling, he figured by the sound. A couple bottles turned lazily in the wind. He let the one he was working on drop to take up slack as he kept his hand on the free end of the rope, using the branch above him as a poor-man’s pulley. He let the rope out to lower the bottle, keeping his periphery on its relationship to the others. This part was actually damned important. Not only was there an aesthetic consideration- he often enjoyed the view of this grove on his walk up- but you also wanted them spaced swinging-distance from each other. You didn’t ever want to give Old Man Wind the opportunity to smash a couple of these bottles together. Joshua had never tried to determine the specific contents of any bottle himself, but he had a rough idea of why they were put on his porch in the middle of the night. And he didn’t want them loose again.

He tied off the rope and absently listened to the plane’s engine power down a bit. Along with the circle it was doing, he figured he was bleeding off speed in order to drop in closer. He doubted it was going to touch down- he would have bet anything that it wouldn’t get very close at all- but it was a step at least. He unlocked his knees and worked himself back down the ladder. He could feel the tingling of blood flowing back into his left leg and foot. Of course he felt nothing in the right. He stepped to the ground, on the edge of the dry grass and the dirt under the tree, then stepped out from the branches to look up.

The plane was closer all right- about 500 feet off the ground. It was a beautiful machine; stainless steel and gleaming in the sun. It was carving an arc around the grove and not going near as fast as it could, so he had time to take it in. Invasion stripes ran down each wing, and the aft end of the fuselage had them running against the grain. He could even read the number on the tail, and as he did the pilot pulled it round, as if to hide them on purpose. Joshua The MilkMan lifted his hand and waved- he felt a bit stupid but truthfully he didn’t know what else to do. He immediately heard the engine wind back up and the plane rolled out and pulled up- climbing back to safety. He saw the pilot as a shadow- a dirty smudge inside the cockpit glass. Oh well, the Milk Man thought, he had enough to do today with his own work. He wasn’t about to chase that one too.

He heard something rustle at his feet and pulled his attention away from the plane to look down and see a snake coming toward him. He stood still while the snake poured itself over his right shoe and tucked under his pant leg. He pulled his trousers up to see her curled around his wooden leg like a loose sock, no doubt hoping to hitch a ride back to town. Well, at least some things around here are still friendly.

He pulled his ladder away from the tree, put it back on his shoulder, and started back. The plane was pushing the other way, it’s engine roaring against the headwinds.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, I'll send out another next week.

There is an archive for this newsletter on my site, which you can get to by clicking this very pretty button:

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This Sorry Spacesuit was started (and continues to lumber along for now) as a place to support conversations that don't fit into algorithms or truncated tweets, I don't care about your data or your browsing habits, but I’m always interested in hearing your perspective. Feel free to reply.
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