The One Paragraph I’d Save from a Burning Building

Yesterday, I happened upon a paragraph from my graduate thesis, which had been a 500-page novel about my family. The paragraph was in a document from November of 2002. The last time I thought consciously about this project may well have been in November of 2002. I had forgotten that this paragraph existed. How could I forget that this paragraph existed?

I have fallen in love with the paragraph all over again. I can’t bear to let it languish away in the bowels of my archive. I was trying to explain my connection to this paragraph over dinner last night with E—gnocchi; speaking of love, I love gnocchi—I dared to call the paragraph perfect. Then I backtracked, trying to explain further. It’s not that the paragraph would be seen as “perfect” if others happened to read it, it’s only that it is exactly how I meant it to be, my intentions perfectly met with the outcome of the words on the page. I am perfectly happy with this paragraph. I am a fuller person for having written it.

The paragraph I speak of wasn’t always in the 500 pages. If written somewhere around the fall of 2002, it would have been after the thesis had been turned in and I graduated, and also after the three people I sent the book to had read it. The first was an agent, the first agent I ever sent to in my life; her kind rejection in the spring of 2002 is still saved somewhere in my old email account. The second was a friend; her suggestions for revision of this novel are also dated in the spring of 2002. The third was my mother; the book made her uncomfortable—I told too much—and it was her reaction above all others that made me second-guess the entire project and put it away for good.

That fall, in 2002, I made a second attempt at telling the story. I fictionalized it a lot more. I didn’t get very far. There are five or six pages of a new opening and there, nestled on the second page, the paragraph. Can it be that no one has ever seen this paragraph except for me? I think so.

The question is… what can be done with the paragraph now? I want to take it and make something of it. I want to build a whole new story around it, as if it is a universal piece that fit here but could also fit there and there and there.

I’ve pulled it out of the archive. Now it’s just sitting here, on my desktop, waiting to see what I’ll do.

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