Finding rabbits

Two Steiff woolen rabbits with photo of John Ott

As you five swell followers might know, I’ve been writing an essay about my childhood home that was burned down in a planned fire exercise when I was sixteen.  A rabbit figures in the story.  Here are a couple of excerpts.

After their pyrotechnic work was done, house gone, I returned to the remnants, stood on the ashes.  Near where the shed had been, I found one of my small wool Steiff rabbits, intact, unscathed.  A tiny symbol of the phantom limb of home–does keeping hold of stuff I had before the house disappeared stand in for a home?  When I hold that rabbit in my hand, I feel something stable and secure, but that’s too simple.

Then later in the essay:

Now I hold the Steiff rabbit that didn’t burn.  I imagine again walking across the charred land, finding the thing, the size of a cotton ball, where our garage had been.  How hadn’t I packed it?  How hadn’t it been torched?  I want to touch, smell, hear, see, consume the moment of finding that rabbit.

So telling truth, I pin that rabbit to a velvet board, and into a new ghost story I shove the cute animal, twist rabbits against type, make them sinister, keep writing.  Everything must be lit, and burn, then melt, transmogrify: everything must milk and then feed that famished ghost, memory.

At a fabulous Yellow Springs yard sale this morning, I found two Steiff rabbits, and bought the pair for a mere $7.  It was like my recurring dreams of finding pieces of my childhood Steiff collection at antique stores and having to buy them back, but in reverse: this morning they were not my rabbits, and I was awake.  Now they are on (the one clean corner of) my desk.

Just more evidence that things keep turning and turning, but won’t let us forget: carbon replaces itself, surprises us, and continues to haunt…

House, Stuff, Fire…

During the battle, the Confederates burnt Samuel Mumma's farmhouse, springhouse, and barn to prevent them from being used by Union Sharpshooters. This on-the-spot sketch was done by the Englishmen Alfred Waud.

Writing churns things up.  That churning is one of the most fantastic things about writing, one of the things I love, but it’s not comfortable.  Facing things, really looking at things, staring dumbly at things, that kind of minute and honest reflection, can be difficult and unpleasant.  You can also find small treasures there.  In working on an essay about stuff (literal stuff, the items that tumble from my closet, the towers of papers and important detritus spanning my surfaces) I realized I actually need to be writing about my phantom limb: my childhood house that’s no longer there.  It was burned down in a fire training exercise.  I’ve written about it in my novel, immortalized it here and there.

This time I decided to write a short story about the house, about a ghost in the house, about the fire…currently, the stuff of the story is a huge mess, but it’s been satisfying to make.  Right now I’m just generating words, ideas, the raw junk that I will attempt to shape into a story.  It’s all I want to do, but it’s so untidy, so simultaneously new and ancient.  Like my surfaces, it’s cluttered, noisy.

And sometimes a spider skitters from underneath…