This is a year of deaccession for me. Libraries and museums use the word deaccession to mean gleaning from their collections. I’ve been sorting through clutter; two weeks ago I sent the Newberry Library 22 cartons of letters, manuscripts and miscellaneous papers. I’ve been going through books, and discarding clothes I never wear.

I just got back from visiting my beloved friend, the writer Dorothy Salisbury Davis. Dorothy has been an important mentor to me as a writer and a person for more than 25 years. She’s 96 now, and not strong, but her mind is as vibrant and tough as ever. I realized during the time we were together that she has been deaccessioning in a way that makes me think deeply about life and aging. Two years ago, she moved from the old farmhouse, where her husband, the actor Harry Davis, and she had lived for half a century.

Dorothy's house

Dorothy and Harry’s old farmhouse

She moved into an assisted living facility, which she has treated as a new stage on the road, rather than a situation to be fought against. She had to stop driving, which was among her passions, but she said she doesn’t miss her car, as she thought she would. She doesn’t miss the house; I confess I do. She husbands her strength for the things that truly matter to her.

It frightens me, the thought of unweaving myself from the many threads that connect me to the Now, and it frightens me to watch her do it. Yet here, as so many times in the last 25 years, I listen to her, hope I am learning from her, hope that when my ride up the escalator is drawing to an end, I will know what to hold, what to let go, and let those things go with her grace.

  • The Bag Lady

    Sara, I understand that feeling of fright. Even at my relatively young age (at least, to your 96 year old friend), I often think of the need to reduce the “things” in my life. Not having children ties into this – I sometimes wonder who will be forced to sort through the detritus of my life after I’m gone, and what they will do with all my  “treasures”. The beloved glass “hair-saver” inherited from my mother (containing a lock of her mother’s hair) — will it end up abandoned on a thrift-store shelf, strangers pondering its purpose?
    I am confident that you will follow Dorothy’s example and be as strong and gracious as she.

  • Alessandra Mignolli

    Dear Sara, thanks for sharing this! I think it is important for us to learn from those people who are able to clearly and serenely understand life. Your story reminds me of an aunt of mine, one of those strong and tough, though not cultivated, women from the south of Italy. She passed away last year at 98, still mentally fit till the end. In the last 10 or 15 years of her life she went through a process of “deaccession”, as you say, with the same grace (which by the way was her name: Grazia) and intelligence, or I would rather say awareness, as your old mentor. Yes, those women have a lot to teach, and can be an important inspiration for all of us

  • Bjshoemaker

    It is so nice of you to share your papers and manuscripts to the Newberry Library. I’ve always loved your writing and VI introduced me to Chicago. I like that your work will stay here.

    I understand the terror that deaccession brings. I love the idea of a “tiny home” but I have a hard time keeping down the clutter in my three bedroom apartment.  I love that your friend Dorothy is able to see her latest move as a new stage on the road. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. We don’t often speak about these fears until something in our lives forces us to make these changes. If we talk and share our feelings before hand, maybe we can find our way through the process with a little more sanity and serenity.

  • Pen

    I agree with the three former comments. I guess if you can do the deaccession gradually it may not seem such a scary thing. I’ve sort of done it twice before – the latter being a downsizing from 4 bed place to a small 2 bed bungalow. That entailed discarding loads of stuff. I think it’s the mental discarding that affects us the most. Good luck Sara!

  • Neve Rallow

    One question.  What exactly does the Body Artist do on stage?

  • Neve Rallow

    Or, answering my own question.  The Body Artist is relatable to the very overt history in the novels of two different detective lines of pursuit being separated for a long time as V.I. fills readers in on how to get about in between north and south Chicago, jog five miles on winter mornings, drink Black Label, handle the bread and butter cases which are not sexy for several hours, suffer assault injuries, call various well-paid serving parties, call her answering service, cook and eat, eat at restaurants, berate the CPD, use her picklocks, pay out twenties all over the city, and be cold while hardly sleeping.  Plus confronting strangers or criminals unyieldingly.  While under any kind of social impact and seeing conditions where gangs are non-stop.  And more Black Label.   

  • Neve Rallow.

    In the United States, what counts is the On Base Percentage + Slugging Average.  Those who can’t get their minds around this fact end up like the planet Pluto, which couldn’t clear its orbit and now no longer is a planet.  You have to clear the strike zone of unwanted matter.  I’ve now plowed through the first four V.I. Warshawski novels following September 11.  The fifth has been ordered by a book store since it’s still only out in hard cover.  I’ve read four of the ten which existed before September 11, so I’m well past the half way point (since they’re generally shorter).  Fouled off.

  • Neve Rallow

    I’ll share a few secrets on maintaining or improving a major league On Base Percentage + Slugging Average.  Total Recall has been read, plus the first four post-September 11 V.I. novels, plus three others.  Total Recall is a lot longer than average for the ten pre-September 11 novels, putting me (as noted already) in a decent position.  I’m now reading Blood Shot.  Character names invented out of the blue are unlikely to be good pitches to swing at.  This tends to cover V.I.’s old friends in South Chicago.  However, Blood Shot has a scene where V.I. visits Connie, who is portrayed as reasonably close to a middle class loving wife who probably has a decent sex life.  During the visit, V.I. throws in an overt obscenity.  So that adds a sexy element to the scene, and that contrivance might be able to be hit to the opposite field for a base hit.  What I’m also looking at in Blood Shot, so far, is the name Gloria as the egotistical receptionist in the Federal Building, the use by police of stones to outline where a murder victim was found if in a natural setting where chalk lines or the like won’t work, the idea of being a Citizen Cindy, and the idea of a badly cut version of “Rebel Without a Cause.”  In fact, a Citizen Cindy and a female Sal Mineo in “Rebel” would be the two cases I’m working on simultaneously.   

  • Neve Rallow.

    The pitching is “filthy” and even “obscene” and therefore my On Base Percentage + Slugging will continue to be tracked as those adjectives subtly depict the obviously present free use of the V.I Warshawski novels as Chicago novels.  In the novel Bitter Medicine, I’m going to commit to a swing on the 23rd word being Arby’s, and commit to a swing again near the end on V.I. being able to track her ex-husband’s Mercedes on the freeway north via its unique tail light placement.  My decision to swing on the 23rd word being Arby’s involves that there are close to 3,000 of these franchises in the United States and around a hundred in Canada, and it’s almost entirely doing business just in English-speaking North America, where it was the first fast food franchise to do several health-oriented steps.  But really I want its name to turn into Arbitrary’s if “it rare” is inserted in the middle, therefore showing that the arbitrary, such as the death penalty for females in Florida, Texas, and Virginia, is both arbitrary and rare.  So that’s why I would commit on the 23rd word in Bitter Medicine being Arby’s, and for some other reasons.  Then on the tail light placement to Dick Yarborough’s Mercedes, my last at bat against the use of Bitter Medicine, I committed there based on that it’s obviously akin to a vast number of faces.     

  • rosedougie

    I belong to a small group of cancer victims who have rare, slowly-growing, incurable brain cancer.For the most part, most of us retain our faculties for a long time. Part of what we do is what you describe your friend doing and part of what we do is resist. We never escape this reality and can only try stop it from paralyzing us. I have listened to about six of your books this summer and have grown so close to VI. I had to come here and tell you how much I am drawn to her honest looks at herself. I’m so sad to have reached the start of the final book. Thanks for making difficult times easier.


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