Unfinished Business

Some days, you wake with a song in your head. This morning, I woke up with the feeling of melancholy I got when I finished Douglas Adams’ unfinished final novel, The Salmon of Doubt. To be fair, some of that melancholy was the fact that, to pad out the incomplete first act of the novel, his estate included not only early essays, but eulogies by his friends, but the bulk of it comes from the knowledge that Dirk Gently will never solve the mystery set out.

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Not to mention the dozens of other Adamsian characters we’re never going to meet. The few chapters we did get introduce us to a cab driver who is convinced that, because no one has ever said “Follow that cab!” to him, he is the cab everyone else is following. What else would there have been.

I bring this up because, twice today, I also encountered the tale of The Day the Clown Cried, Jerry Lewis’ Holocaust drama about a clown force to lead children to the gas chambers. He was so embarrassed by how bad, bad, bad” (his words in an interview) it is, that he decreed it not be be released for 36 years after his death, and another producer has added years to that, according to a recent AV Club piece. The combination of the two got me thinking about my potential legacy of unfinished stories.

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While I understand the drive to pore through every scrap of paper ever touched by famous writer (which I am not, although wouldn’t mind being), there is a part of me that feels uneasy about this. There’s a reason I write some things in, say, this blog or on my Facebook page (my two largest current soapboxes), and other things in text messages or emails. There are dozens of things I’d really rather not be seen by the general public: under-cooked ideas and unintentionally offensive remarks being merely two of them.

In some ways, this is one of the great quandaries of my generation, we of the Foodstagram and Foursquare check-ins. If Apple unlocks the iPhone of a terrorist, what is to stop them from doing the same to mine (aside from not owning one)? Is the NSA truly watching everything I do?  When we are sharing everything, is there such a thing as privacy?

This may also go back to the question I posed previously: How do I know when an idea has legs, and when it’s going to die in the Steamer Trunk?

The one facet, at least the one that relates to this line of thinking, is my control. The half-formed ideas lack the grace and poise of the edited ones. They are naked, they are raw, they haven’t had the time or consideration that can transform a questionable notion into a reasonable one; there are things that sound okay in my head, but sound offensive to someone else. I don’t much like being exposed in that way.

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(Incidentally, this speaks a lot to why I hate conversations on the phone, too. When I am speaking face-to-face, I have the context of another person’s body language and any props they may have; on the phone, it is my words and tone alone that must convey my message, and I can’t edit them as with an email or IM.)

All this is to say, a small part of me wishes I hadn’t read the Salmon of Doubt, and I don’t think those who watch Jerry Lewis’ film will be edified by it. The former is incomplete, raw, and unedited; the latter will–if it does see the light of day–smack of voyeurism. While we all wish we could see into the minds of our heroes, my sense is that the end result is less satisfying than anything we would have imagined for ourselves.

So, when I die, burn anything that isn’t ready for publication. It’ll be clearly and cleverly buried somewhere I’ll disavow all knowledge of.

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