What will you leave behind when you go?

This is Einstein's desk and office, just as he left it when he left us for good. What great ideas were hidden there?
This is Einstein’s desk and office, just as he left it when he left us for good. What great ideas were hidden there?

THE THOUGHT strikes us all.

Some sooner.

Most of us later.

As soon as we pass the age of thirty, we become suddenly aware of our own mortality.

I passed thirty a long time ago.

I think the Wright Brothers had just flown.

Or maybe it was Wiley Post.

Doesn’t matter.

I have lived a long time trying to outrun my mortality.

It hasn’t gained on me, but I can sometimes hear the echo of its footsteps down a dark and rain-splattered alley somewhere.

That’s how I want go someday.

In a dark alley.

The darker, the better.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the dark alleys that occupy my novels.

I figure I’ll have company among the shadows.

Writers, more than anyone, keep asking: what do we leave behind when we are gone?

Here’s the short list.

May God forgive us for our secrets.

We’ll leave a few published stories and a few published books.

And, tragically, we leave stories untold.

On our desks, the great unwashed will find scraps of paper that hold our ideas and assorted passages we planned to include in a novel someday before the days finally run out.

“What does it mean?” they ask.

No one knows.

Perhaps no one cares.

Perhaps no one even asks the question.

There will be scattered pieces of wrinkled and yellowed paper where we outlined our plots and plot twists, dressed our characters to meet the world on the outside of the novel, and scratched out potential titles.

Some good.

Some bad.

Most are better left unread, wadded up, and thrown away by the cleaning lady.

If God is as merciful as I hope He is, those scraps will burn before my ashes do.

Here is reality.

What looks like a brilliant idea today may wind up looking downright silly in tomorrow’s light of day.

We bleed words.

And not all of them are the right ones.

That’s why everything is scribbled on scattered scraps of paper.

Scattered scraps of paper is where we want them to reside.

And forever.

If it were a perfect world, we would leave after typing the final period on the final sentence of the final chapter in our final novel.

It would contain the stories of our lives tucked away in three hundred pages, maybe more, provided, of course, our lives have plodded up one road and down another as we weave our way through an epic.

Then again, others might be better off leaving their legacy among the pages of a novella.


I figure a good short story will just about cover it all.

I am haunted by those final months of Jory Sherman’s life.

He was quite an author who had produced four hundred books.

He was a legend.

But Jory was old.

He was tired.

He was blind.

He was too weak to write.

He couldn’t see the computer screen anyway.

He just lay in bed with a smile on his face.

And he told us all, “I’m still writing novels in my head.” He paused, took a deep breath and said, “You know, some of them are pretty good.”

We’ll never read them.

We’ll never know what we missed..

They say you can’t take it with you.

But they’re wrong.

We do.

Our stories all come with us when we go.

Caleb Pirtle III wanted to leave behind his Ambrose Lincoln stories.



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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Tell as many stories you can. The tragedy is taking stories untold with you. Chance are, they will never be told, not the way you could do it.

    • I’m trying, Caleb. I’m trying.

      Those of us with what I have feel like the walking dead: everything – from the necessary (showers) to the sublime (those novels you want) – takes energy we don’t have.

      And yet I will park myself here, every day, forever (both my parents made it to 91, and my mother is still with us).

      I went out for a 15 min walk, in which I sat and took a rest four times. I wear leg braces to do it. And use walking sticks. And I’m trying to figure out is neuroplasticity will help me retrain the system.

      It will take energy I don’t have – will it possibly give me more energy in the future if I keep it up? I hope so – but I wrote lots today, but it didn’t end up in the fiction file for 20.5 (next to last!). So tomorrow I’ll do it again.

      You won’t get to say that I didn’t try. The rest is up to God. I have a sneaking suspicion he wants this one told.

      God willin’ and the crick don’t rise.

      • Caleb Pirtle

        The Good Lord wants more than one story told, Alicia, and he wants you to tell them. I do admire your tenacity.

        • Heck, Caleb. I admire my tenacity sometimes myself!

          And I keep wondering whether a life of eating bonbons might not be more fun.

          Bonbons are fattening. Writing is not.

          That 20.5 I mentioned? It’s done.


          • Caleb Pirtle

            Alicia, no one has your tenacity. You fight a battle to sit down and write every word, and I am one of your great admirers. My problem is writing with a bowl of bonbons beside the word machine. The more frustrated I get, the more I nibble. Nibbling is a dangerous habit to have.

          • Word of warning: sugar is a dangerous master.

            I LOVE sugar.

            I can’t eat it – if I give in just a little, the bonbons will want more bonbons, and pretty soon I’m sugar logged and can’t write at all. Genetic weakness, probably.

            Find a different way, my friend. Nibbling is a very dangerous game.

          • Caleb Pirtle

            It is even more dangerous than the .38 caliber pistol I put in the bad guy’s hand.

  • jack43

    Cheap parts. That’s what I figure I’ll be leaving. Anyone who has rummaged around a junk yard looking for cheap parts for a car they’re restoring will understand.

    I signed the organ donor card and carry it with me.

    Like I said. Cheap parts. Used. Well used.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Do us all a favor, Jack. Leave us one more story before you go.

  • Don Newbury

    Somehow, reading this account reminds me of a jaded school teacher, sitting through maybe her 45 straight year of boring in-service session to start a new school year. “When I die, I hope it is during an in-service session,” she said. “That way, the transition will be so gradual, I probably won’t even notice it.”

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don: Obviously you weren’t the one conducting the in-service session. She might have died but it would have been from laughing.

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