Sunday, May 27, 2012

Research

Today I have been packing to go away for a month, and sorting through the research material I will need for this part of the book. The documents are mainly personal; photographs, nurses' notebooks, official certificates, obituaries. Later I will have to do archival and library research, but for now I have what I need. More than usual.

Meaning...more than none. This book is the first one for which I'll do a substantial amount of research. In the past, I have always relied upon imagination and memory. I am writing fiction or personal essays, after all; I am the research.

I cannot do so for this book. I have to know what the city I am writing about looked like for all the twentieth century--the changes, buildings torn down and put up. There is a business plot to contend with as well. I remember the event, but even my brief searches into what happened are confusing. I have work to do.

Two events this spring inspired me about the prospect of research. One was a lecture by my colleague, the brilliant James Goodman, about recent research he'd done. The other was a panel at AWP where the brilliant Bonnie Friedman, Marina Budhos, and Kathryn Harrison discussed research for their books. Hearing them actually made me eager. So I am now officially a researcher.

Beginning with reading the nurses' logs. I have never before read them, and they are shocking. I couldn't finish them today; I will have to take them a few pages at a time. There are many aspects of this project that hurt. I hurt when I write. The research will hurt, too.  It is time this story becomes mine, though, and if it hurts, so be it.

Speaking of which, I got a terrible animal bite last night, and have no use of my right thumb. Yes, I did go to the emergency room and got the necessary drugs and treatments. Let me tell you--the opposable thumb is truly a gift from evolution to us.

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