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When you ask a writer why she has written a book, if she only gives you one reason, you can be reasonably sure she is either lying or has been strongly encouraged to whittle it down to one primary reason. In my particular case, there were a million reasons for writing Elsewhere. Here are four of them.
1. I have a good friend from school, Joe. As he lives on one coast and I on the other, I only see him every couple of years. During one of my biennial lunches with Joe, he said, "My mother says she's not going to live much longer."
And I said, "Joe, I'm so sorry. Is she sick?"
"No," he said, "but she's almost sixty years old. And the last time I was home, she said that, practically speaking, she only had thirty, forty years left, tops — in other words, less time ahead of her than behind her. So, thirty, forty years, and then she dies, that's it." And, at the time, this struck me as terribly depressing. Not the death part so much, because that is inevitable. But the way thirty or forty years of life could be viewed as little more than a coda.
2. About a year before I began writing my book, my dog got three lumps, and I was completely convinced it was cancer and that she would probably die at any moment. The lumps turned out to be fatty cysts and completely benign. But, for a time, I became quite obsessed with dog mortality. I still would like to believe that there's an after-life, not so much for myself, but for my dog. (I was equally obsessed with my dog's inability to tell me IN ENGLISH if she were sick or would, say, just like a snack.)
3. I do not have a particularly good reason why I conceived of the after-life as backwards. I will say that there was a particular factor in my life that made it easy for me to imagine Elsewhere as it is: my last name starts with a Z, so when I was in school it means that I was always called last for everything, and stuck sitting at the back of the class. When your last name starts with Z, you begin hoping for things to be backwards from a very early age.
4. Having not been there, I have no idea what the after-life is actually like. But, if there is an after-life, I would hope it is the way Thomas Wolfe describes it in You Can't Go Home Again: "To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth— "—Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of this world is tending—a wind is rising, and the rivers flow."
Oh yes, and I hope that there are dogs.
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