Palimpsest of Legacy

I began working on my will this weekend, which evokes the concept of palimpsest on a wholly different level. I am traveling to Italy in 73 days to study the layers of time, architecture, urban design, food, culture and language—things that have persisted over centuries, enriched each other, and still exist today.

Yet, they only exist in Civita because of the residents who perpetuate them. (According to Edward and Jennifer’s interview in the NIAUSI newsletter, the latest count is a mere five Civitanici who keep the home fires burning.)

Creating a will asks a person to take stock of the layers of her lifetime and assess a value—and a new owner—for them. Questions begin to arise, like, who benefits from my labor? Who will safeguard and understand the emotional significance of my property? What items are truly important to bequeath, and what doesn’t matter? What kind of imprint am I leaving on the world?

When compiling my final wishes, I discovered that I have very few earthly possessions that I feel warrant special care. There are bank accounts and retirement funds, a piano and jewelry for which I’ve made specific bequests. But the rest of it—who cares? They can divide it up any way they want to, or have a garage sale, as far as I’m concerned.

What is more interesting—and more important—to me is the question of what effect I have on this world. If I died today, would there be any proof that I made it a better place? My loyal loved ones would say yes, but what is it that I’ve done that will outlast the people I know today, and live on to inspire, nurture or delight people whom I’ll never meet? In short, what is my legacy?

For some, the easy answer is family. For those of us who have chosen a different path, it’s something else—or [possibly] nothing.

Over the past year, my writing has grown infinitely more important to me in part, because it helps me to know myself and this world better. The other side of that coin is that writing is my legacy.

When I write, I do so with the hope that I can bring people together, inspire discussion, make readers laugh (or cry—or feel something), and transport them to other parts of the country and the world that they might never experience.

I hope that I do this in a way that strikes an emotional chord—whether it’s feeling the dangers of crossing a street in Austin, or enjoying the mouth feel of soft, warm, powdery beignets in New Orleans, or hearing teenage Claelia emphatically exclaim, “Basta!” when I overdressed my salad in Verona.

Like any writer, I hope that what I write lives on beyond my lifetime. I’d like to dream that I’ll someday write something important a la Jane Jacobs or John Steinbeck—something that people read 50 years after I wrote it and is still relevant to them. Something that makes them quote a line to a friend. Something layered and rich that makes them feel an emotion. Something that inspires them blog or Tweet—or whatever they’ll be doing in 50 years.

More simply, I hope that what I create in Civita will be timeless to the extent in that it is useful beyond my own edification, entertaining beyond my circle of friends and colleagues—a worthy inheritance that rings true to those who will never know me in this lifetime, or the next.

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