Julie Otsuka on Writing From and Into Memories

Julie Otsuka on Writing From and Into Memories

One day in late April, two enormous boxes arrived at my door. Together, they weighed eighty-six pounds. For the last two years, my brothers and I had been renting a storage unit in L.A. so we would not have to deal with our parents' stuff. This was an arrangement I would have been happy to continue with indefinitely. But now, one of the brothers, the practical one, had unilaterally decided, enough. And so there it was, my share of the clutter: two boxes of inherited junk. I live in a small apartment in New York City. I do not have an attic or a basement, just a drawer in the kitchen filled with batteries and screwdrivers that I sometimes like to call the garage. I had no place to put these boxes, so they sat, unopened, in my foyer for six weeks. I had an to write, a talk to give, friends to see, a to research. There was always something else to do. However, after listening, one night, to a podcast “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning”—the idea being, get rid of your junk now so other people don't have to do it for you after you die, a philosophy my parents had apparently never heard of—I decided to tackle the boxes. The first box, the lighter of the two, at thirty-eight pounds, was filled with hundreds of photographs and letters. Most of the letters were addressed to my parents but many, I saw, were addressed to me. Some of this junk was mine. It is exactly these very quotidian details that I look for, when doing my own research, to write my novels. I found letters from childhood friends and college roommates, aerograms from an old boyfriend, a note from a Yale classmate who later dropped out and took his own life, another from a friend who was last seen living on the streets of Berkeley. There was a photograph of myself and a handsome young man who would later go on to commit a horrific crime when not in his right mind. […]

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