• Evan Wolkenstein

That's the Chair Where I Wrote My Book

Updated: Feb 5


Some chairs travel around the world and live in eternity.


Centuries ago, the chair of Chassidic master Rebbe Nachman was saved from a pogrom, chopped into delicate pieces and spirited to safety: now, it lives in the Bratslav Synagogue in Jerusalem.


Other chairs travel across the country and wind up in the dump.


That's the story of the chair where I wrote my book. It was my parents' chair for decades and then it was mine for decades more... and yesterday, it went out to the curb. I tried to give it away -- but it was hopeless: the cushion was squashed from 4 years of writing, the upholstery rubbed shiny from 4 years of edits (especially the right arm). The top, where the cat preferred to perch, was gouged open.


I hauled it outside and walked away, returned to it, took a dozen photos from every angle and a few selfies, as if parting ways with a dear, old friend.


Not everybody gets so nostalgic about their trash. Me, I can get nostalgic about anything. I'm obsessed with time travel. On the one hand, that's exactly what drove me to write a book about those years of darkness called Middle School. Sure, I'm really glad to be done with them. But I couldn't resist returning to them, armed with perspective, 35 year's worth of distance, and a mission: to turn my Bar Mitzvah year into a Middle Grade novel.


On the other hand, throughout my life, my nostalgia has compelled me in less pretty ways -- I've hoarded boxes of detritus, relics of the past, filling up closets and crawlspaces. And more significantly, in my life, I've resisted change -- healthy change, because it threatened to efface the past or some imaginary prior-me that did not want to go gently into that good night.

Fortunately for my wife, my daughter, and myself, the unstoppable force of my evolving life collided with the previously immovable object of my attachment to the past. As my wife's pregnant belly grew (and needing to empty out my reliquary to make space for a baby), I said goodbye to twenty years of detritus: ticket stubs, a cracked souvenir hamsa from Istanbul, gifts from people I remember fondly but who aren't part of my life, on and on, I snapped photos, sent the physical bodies to the trash, digital ghosts banished to the cloud like spirits in a Ghostbusters containment unit.


Along with this, other deeper artifacts of the past had to say goodbye: my introverted need for hours of solitude each day, my overpowering FOMO which once drove me to investigate every indie bad-art-gallery-pancake-pop-up in San Fransisco, and notably - my antiques.


A four poster bed, a dresser with a mirror, a dining room table, and the chair -- all beautiful, or at least once had been. Over the years, dings and gouges and water marks made much of it scruffy, at best. But it was so much of who I was -- or who I thought it was.


Life had other plans for my furniture. Two years ago, we moved from our classic San Francisco Queen Anne apartment, where dusty, dinged antiques looked right at home, to a cute, midcentury house far across the Golden Gate bridge. On the one hand, my antiques presented a decorating disaster: every room looked cobbled together, mismatched, too big or too small, like dusty hand-me-downs from grandma's attic had shambled into our clean, new home. More problematically, it was all my old stuff invading my new life. And this new life of mine, clearly, it isn't just mine. It's a story I'm telling with my family. My wife and I wanted to conceive of a vision for each room, we selected a new couch and new coffee table and new dressers together. Our house began to reflect us, who we are right now...not like some twenty year old version of me.


The chair where I wrote my book moved from room to room and finally to the garage, and though it seemed too indecorous to throw it out, I couldn't sell it. I couldn't give it away, though I tried. It was like a story spent, its final words already told, done with its job; it needed to be cleared away to make room for the next chapter.

I'm raising a daughter and God willing soon, another. She's due in weeks. Days, even. I did not grow up in a house with girls, let alone two. Clearly, I will need to throw away some of my understanding of what childhood (and growing up) is about to make room for this brand new thing. This family will tell a story never told before.


Likewise, my book. Four years ago, I started writing a book about a boy, a lot like me. Writing it required digging deeply into my past. My next book, however, is about a girl -- and it will require something different entirely -- digging into the stories I have heard and read, the stories my wife has told me about growing up as a girl. The things she has taught me I that didn't understand. I cannot approach this sacred, new task in the way I have approached the others; it will require new eyes and new ears. I will need to let go of my old ways of doing things. will need to sit in a different place.


I will need to sit in a different chair.





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