301: “What Remains” (Emily St. John Mandel)

                “There is a sort of randomness about what remains.”
                -Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, commenting on what stays around in history (and in her novel)

                On my desk, as I write this, there’s a bowl from today’s lunch, and an acorn hat, and a rock, and a twig with dry white flowers—I’m not sure what kind, but a week ago the wind brought down a branch and I brought home this twig.
                A few weeks ago, after I heard some scholars talking about archives, I started wondering how much of what we do is archivistry. This and this go together. These ideas go together. These words go together. “This” and “go” and “together” go together. These sentences and the list of things on my desk go together. This question about how we make archives, make sets, might’ve encouraged me to pick up the twig in the first place: these little flowers and I go together, for at least a little.Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, is about what’s left. What we gather. When Mandel spoke (virtually) at my school, I found myself thinking about her novel more deeply than I ever had before. Part of that was because of things she said, like this line I’ve quoted (and lots of other good ones). Part of that was just from talking with her. That happens a lot: I’m attached to things because of where I picked them up, because they’re attached to someone I’ve talked to.
                Because of the randomness of what remains. In the last year I’ve tried to do a lot of meaning-making, of habit-shaping, a lot of imposing order on what is. These words go together. In the last few weeks I’ve tried to step away from some of that. At first I had the image of a hand relaxing around its tools, around the stuff it’s “working with,” and just opening to whatever falls into it. But I’d rather stop thinking about hands. Ears don’t open and close. I’ve been trying to listen to whatever sounds wash up around me. I suppose I could say there is a pattern to them, larger and deeper than the patterns I was thinking, or I could say with Mandel that there’s a randomness to what remains, moment to moment, from what we’ve built and who we were. What was. Either way. For now I’d rather sit and listen.

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