The Big Sort

Meg took these shots of me working on the book. At this stage, I have about 175 poems scanned and cleaned up. I’d like to have about 150. I was trying to organize them all on the computer in Adobe Bridge, but I wanted to be able to see them all, to touch them, to shuffle them, stack them, sort through them. I decided to print them all out on paper. Now I’m looking for themes and threads, stories and characters, trying to make this thing flow.

The Big Sort

It’s a lot like making a mixtape, or sequencing an album. The way the songs butt up against each other can totally color their meanings. One could craft a hundred different albums from the same batch of songs.

The Big Sort

The task now is looking. Trying to see a book in this stack of pages.

Dan Roam, in his book, The Back of the Napkin, says “there are four basic rules to apply every time we look at something new.”

dan roam back of the napkin

1. Collect everything we can to look at—the more the better (at least at first).

2. Have a place where we can lay out everything and really look at it, side by side.

3. Always define a basic coordinate system to give us a clear orientation and position.

4. Find ways to cut ruthlessly from everything our eyes bring in—we need to practice visual triage.

Lay it all out where you can look at it. As Edward Tufte says, “Whenever possible, show comparisons adjacent in spaces, not stacked in time.”

Looking leads to seeing which leads to meaning.

David Hockney came to his theory on optics and painting by pinning a photocopied timeline of paintings down one wall of his studio:

david hockney wall of painting

He looked and was able to see a story.

Let’s hope it works for me.


The New House

In the midst of the mortgage crisis, Meg and I went out and bought a house. We closed today, we move in this weekend. In the five years that we’ve known each other, we’ve never lived in anything bigger than a one-bedroom apartment. Now we both have offices, a washer/dryer, a two-car garage…it’s very surreal.

When you live with someone in a tiny apartment, you’re always in close proximity. You never see that person more than 10 or 20 feet away, because there isn’t 10 or 20 feet to gain between you. You get used to seeing them from a particular distance.

Meg and I often meet each other for lunch on campus. When I see her from far away, walking towards me, she looks like a different person—she looks like a stranger, or someone I just met. It’s like a visual refresh. (I wonder if this visual element isn’t part of the hidden magic of what self-help couples books tell you to do: meet for dinner, but take separate cars…)

I’m reminded of this passage from Dylan Horrocks’ Hicksville:

Maps are of two kinds. Some seek to represent the location of things in space. That is the first kind – the geography of space. But others represent the location of things in time – or perhaps their progression through time. These maps tell stories, which is to say they are the geography of time. […] But these days I have begun to feel that stories, too, are basically concerned with spatial relationships. The proximity of bodies.

I wonder about this proximity of bodies. I wonder how we will grow in a bigger space, with an upstairs and downstairs. How our changing spatial relationships might alter our story…

Above is a sketch of the house, superimposed over a page from William Maxwell’s wonderful short novel, So Long, See You Tomorrow.