A xeroxed letter dated 1856 and some
painted macaw pins on my work table
September 15, 2012
I didn't get writer's-block stuck, as in "I don't know what to write," but I have stopped writing for most of the past few weeks. I was proofreading the transcript from this 1856 letter (what you see on my work table here is a xerox of the letter), when several things happened:
1) I don't enjoy the minute proofing as much as the writing, initial transcribing, and research. I learn from these things.
2) I started thinking about money and immediate expenses, and I began working on my online store again. I would like to get all of the pained animal pins put up well before Christmas, and there are hundreds left to do. You can see a few colorful macaws above. They are beautiful, fun to work with, and I am excited that people will have a chance to find them. (I suppose this does not mean I couldn't spend SOME time proofing, but it has indeed become a block; therefore, I will blog about it, dumping some of my innards, engaging in the creative process, and avoiding the proofing a few hours longer.)
3) I started working on other online potential-income things and also working on various blogs again.
4) My parathyroid illness is temporarily worse again. "Another story for another day."
5) And this may be the one excuse worth looking at. The letters I am avoiding working on are not especially germane to this book. The critic on my shoulder says it's a waste of time to labor over them. The believer/supporter on my other shoulder disagrees, but the critic at this moment is SO much louder. It has no need. There are many good reasons to "waste time" taking care over the "dead ox incident" described.
As part of the task I set for myself, I wanted to transcribe and make available to readers and researchers every letter and document in my collection, whether they all end up in the final published book or not. I also find the details of the lives I'm exposing extremely interesting to ME, and maybe others will enjoy them, too. It does sometimes become tedious to try to discern whether an "A" is capitalized or not, whether a dash is a period, or whether a new paragraph should be started when the writer ended a line short, but did not indent the next. These decisions sometimes drive me crazy, but oddly enough, they can help form insights into what the writer was thinking, whether something was important to them, or whether they were in a particular hurry. I also want to be accurate, because the transcript is all most readers after me will see.
Back to the letter at hand. The writer is incidental. He (they, for it is a letter enclosed within another letter) do not appear again in the story. But what they bring in their cameo appearance is a touch of the reality of daily life in 1850s Iowa and tells us what a lawyer of the day might be dealing with. A lawyer in Iowa writes to Nathaniel, who is also a lawyer, but in a different town in Iowa. The first lawyer encloses a letter from a man in Nathaniel's town who needed help. The man had borrowed a team of oxen from a friend in eastern Iowa to move his family and goods to Sioux City in western Iowa. He was supposed to have sold the oxen on arrival and sent his friend the payment. But he didn't.
I don't know why photos taken by my phone won't orient
correctly some of the time . . . sorry about that.
The settler used the oxen for awhile to work his new land, and then one of the oxen apparently got "dry pneumonia" and died. What good is an ox team with only one ox? The surviving ox was fat and salable for beef, but would the owner settle for proceeds from only one ox?
In addition to the legal question, I am reminded of the importance of that animal that has all but vanished from most of our lives, and even from the scenes in my imagination. When I think of the 1800s, I think of transportation by horseback, carriage, stagecoach, and I think of horses. On a farm, I picture cows, pigs, and sheep. The ox does not come to mind. Thanks to an old letter that my inner critic said was a waste of time, I have broadened my mental landscape of life in 1850s Midwestern America and my understanding of what these times were like for my ancestors. As an animal lover, I also like to think the oxen will be remembered. It's probably time to proceed.