Your Memory Is A Monster

Completely anonymous, letting the guilty live free and the interested live happily.

An excerpt from an untitled essay-in-progress July 16, 2010

My sister, my cousins, Ann’s husband, and Jake all come back to the great-aunt’s house where my parents and sister and I are staying. They’ve brought fireworks.
Ann, Morgan and I stand back, sipping wine.
“This looks pretty damn dangerous,” I say as Jason and Ann’s husband Jack go out onto the dirt road and set down the tube to shoot mortar shells out of. I was most concerned with getting good pictures, with listening to Ann give my sister advice about camping in Yellowstone, and with making sure Jake and Jason didn’t throw the ground-skating spinner fireworks too close to our feet. The explosions, kicking up dirt by our feet, or up in the air above the corn fields, were a loud, bright signal that this trip was worth it, that the July 4th holiday tomorrow would be exciting, that my cousins, despite their states-away distance and occasional Midwest mindset, were more important to me than I’d let myself realize. I saw in those flashing lights a brief glimpse of what it would be like if we managed to grow up without the petty jealousy and who-has-better-achieving-children bullshit that we had watched unfold earlier that night. In that moment, we didn’t really care who among us had higher paying jobs, were married or dating someone, was living in a downtown loft or a shitty carriage house, was a teacher or librarian, handyman or gun salesman. We laughed at the same jokes, and we believed mostly good things about one another. And though they threw them nearer and nearer, none of us would ever come close to wanting to light another’s foot on fire.

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Luxury living. July 31, 2009

Moving almost always begets a nervous breakdown for me.

There is the normal stress of moving. Starting something new, not sure what will happen, or how things will work out. Leaving a place I was familiar with, people I knew and spent time with. Having to pack everything, move everything, unpack everything.

There are some aggravating factors, too. Like that I have at least two boxes that I packed when I moved out of the duplex I lived in in college, 5 years ago, 3 moves ago, and had a similar nervous breakdown. There are math tests I took 6 years ago, entire boxes of student papers from 3 years ago. So, not only do I have more stuff to move… there’s a hidden, neurotic reason these things are still around.

They have the cursed personal value.

I can’t get rid of anything my mother has given me… and that is a considerable amount of stuff.

I can’t get rid of anything associated with my senior year of college… and a great deal of that stuff is barely more than trash. In fact, I think there are empy cigarette packs that some friends of mine gave me with inside jokes written on them. So, yeah, actual trash.

There are endless notebooks. Class notes, journals, empty notebooks, boxes and boxes of notebooks.

Pictures, from before I got a digital camera. Of parties in college, my front porch the year I turned 21 and belived myself to be impressive by drinking on that front porch, endless piles of pictures.

Tomorrow, I turn 27, and I live in a new apartment, in downtown Ft. Worth. The building and parking garage both have limited access. Landscapers are here every day. There is trash pick-up, from outside my apartment door, every evening. There are swimming pools, a skyscaper view, and the building backs up onto river trails.

I have managed to curb the crap in my apartment in a workable way. The coat closet holds 6 boxes, and there are 4 behind the couch. Aside from clothes, everything else is put away. I am hoping to turn 10 into 2.

I am hoping to feel more deserving of this apartment once I can actually keep track of the crap.

I am hoping to stop romanticizing the town I’ve left, to stop feeling like “it was the only place I felt like myself.” That old town, where I lived for four years doing graduate work and teaching, is the only place I felt like myself… because it is the only place I ever was & because it helped mold me into the person I was… am? I know I’ll miss my friends. Hell, I’ll miss having friends around, no matter who they are. I can’t, though, miss the town. If I think objectively, this town has all of the best things, on a grander scale. And while that grander scale makes things less personal, less personable… I remember now that I never really felt “at home” in all those cool, hip places in my old town.

I felt at home at my home, at my friends’ homes, and at the two shitty bars we went to once a week.

The stuff I own, my possessions, I know would make for a funny essay subject. I’ve tried several times before, and again today, to write about them. For some reason, my stuff has made it to the list of things I can’t successfully write about. Writing teachers have theories about why writers struggle with certain material. Maybe writers don’t have enough distance, can’t prioritize because the subject is a sensitive issue; maybe the writer can’t edit him or herself on the subject because they are still dealing with it, meaning they would use the essay as some self-indulgent therapy ramble.

Would it be too cliche for me to say that I don’t think that it’s any of those things?

I can’t write about my stuff, or my old town, not really… because I don’t want to. Writing is a highly analytical process. Perhaps there is none higher. I don’t want to have to make the kinds of admissions, face the kinds of demons, deal with the implications that would be brought forth by my endless analysis of these subjects.

My essays are highly funny. Perhaps there are none funnier. But they are serious, too, and both the comedy and the seriousness is born of my willingness to make fun of myself. There are matters I just can’t self-depricate on. Old town and stuff aren’t the only ones. Sometimes things change, sometimes I finally find a way to do it.

For now, I’ll just watch my dog look out the window, and wish with him that we had something better to do.

 

Teenage devils. February 6, 2009

Should I be bothered that I am a better teacher than the people teaching me to teach?

Should I be bothered that the state requires me to learn how to teach, even though I’ve been teaching for 4 years?

Should I be bothered that, in order to sustain and fulfill my life, I’ve accrued $70k in debt?

To be honest, I am most bothered by the fact that I don’t even know how to get a job once I’m done learning to do a job I’ve been doing. Maybe, somehow, these classes will make me a better teacher. But how are they going to help me get a job?

One of the FAQs on the Ed department’s Teacher Certification program website is “Will the department help me find a job?” The answer is simply “No.”

Perhaps I should have a different department, eh?

Though my MA will earn me only a little more a year (when I do, eventually, find a job), I don’t think it was a wasted effort, or even wasted money. I think that those three years, that that writing, those experiences were intrinsically valuable. I don’t know that I would have named a price so high, but I would never say I’m not glad I did what I did.

I did wish this process was easier, though.

I want to teach English to high school students. I am ready to sell my soul to the teenage devil. I am ready to lay down my life for standardized tests. And I am willing to do it all for less money than I could make doing little more than checking my Facebook as an office worker. So why isn’t someone making it easier?

There is an abundance of well-educated, under-employed people in this county, this state, this city, this effin’ neighborhood, even. Why aren’t we being snatched up, courted, wooed and escorted into jobs that need filling, that change lives, that meet important needs?

Why do I have to fight to do the right thing?

I am still going to do it, and I won’t complain (more than this). But what about all the equally qualified folks who are up for the job but not this strenuous process?

 

A blog for real-life grown ups. September 23, 2008

I am an adult. This means that I deal with my feelings instead of hide from them. This means that I make jokes that aren’t cool but am alright with that.

This means that I take people seriously when they talk about their feelings. because that’s what I want from my friends.

This means that when I screw something up, I don’t just mentally acknowledge that I screwed it up, I say it to the person or people involved.

Being an adult doesn’t mean I’ve lost my fear of being honest about myself and my feelings. It does, though, mean that I admit this fear to the people being harmed by it.

It also means that I don’t just acknowledge my flaws in the painfully self-aware way that all my fellow writes have been doing. I admit to them. And, finally, I try to do something about them.

I know this reads like a high school journal entry. But I just get mad at people who are otherwise almost perfect, people whose primary flaw is that they are not just emotionally retarded (literal meaning of the word “retarded”) but who also think it’s OK for them to be this way.

My students’ willful ignorance makes me so troubled that some days I sit in the classroom after they’ve all left, staring at the back wall, forcing encouragement into my mind, trying to think of a way to interest them in something. 

But people my age, people I love and care about and spend time with, they aren’t willfully ignorant. They are contagiously curious. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be all over my life. But there exist among you the willfully immature, the willfully childish. Really, what you are is selfish.

Having an idea does no one any good.

Feeling bad about something does not help anyone.

Admitting that you are “difficult to be around” doesn’t make you easier to be around. Four of my friends have said something like this. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that all of them are men.

Your feelings about me, our friendship, our time together, they do me no good. They benefit me in no way. They change my life in, at most, a marginal way. What you do is what matters.

You see something that needs to be done and you do it.

You see someone who needs something and you get it for them.

You have the time, you do it so someone else doesn’t have to. 

You don’t keep score.

You don’t wait for someone else to.

You go beyond admitting your faults to actively trying to improve on them. Even if this means asking for help in doing so. Especially if it means asking for help in earnest. 

I’ve been writing an essay for a while. An essay about being old. Of course this approach is humorous because I’m not actually that old. Writing an essay is a mysterious process. It requires that I admit that my life is tremendously interesting, or, at the very least, it requires that the way I see my life and the world in which I live it, is valuable outside of my immediate life. 

What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to discover how much I like being old.

It means that the only reason I need to end a relationship of any kind is that the other person isn’t ready for a grown-up, real relationship. I’ve ended friendships for this reason in the very recent past and it was relatively painless. For me.

And, upon reflection, I have no remorse about abruptly ending value-less relationships, because I know that I shouldn’t be in a relationship that provides me with nothing. To a less-than-adult, these relationships are crutches: access points to other people, guarantees that we’ll have something to do, validations of our likability, something we see as easier to maintain than terminate.

We cannot let people hold us hostage, though. Not for any reason. 

I have so many friends. I have so many true friends. But they are not a beacon of my value as a person. Their quality as people and as friends, even the number of them I have in my life, in indicative of both my quality of friendship and my capacity to truly value them.

I don’t expect someone to be my friend if I don’t value them.

So why would I be friends with someone who is so clearly selfish that they cannot go beyond admitting they aren’t a very good friend? Someone incapable of genuine apology? Someone who escapes at the sign of trouble?

If I think my friend is mad at me, I can’t stop trying to solve it. Why is it that so many people just ignore it, knowing that the person will have to let it drop?

I’m not afraid like I was when I was 18. Not afraid of being seen as dramatic, no longer allowing someone else to make me feel or act like a crazy person. My response is, I assure you, warranted. I am, again, hyper-logical, hyper-vigilant, hyper-self-aware. 

And here is my secret source of mental power. I don’t care if you think I am over-reacting. I don’t care if you think you don’t deserve to be admonished. 

I am too patient and too caring and too forgiving and too trusting and too kind and too generous and too fucking good to my friends. If I stop, it’s because I should have long ago. If I stop, it’s because I realize that I wouldn’t let someone treat my friend or sister the way you are treating me.

Here’s how to fix it:

Quit being a fuck.

Quit talking about quitting being a fuck.

Quit merely admitting that you are a fuck.

Quit being a fuck.

 

My memory is a monster. June 25, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized,Writing — memorymonster @ 9:41 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

A few days ago, I was sitting in the sun and I couldn’t stop writing. I had cigarettes and a bottle of water, two camping chairs (one to keep my feet out of the ant-filled grass) and pen and the book. I wasn’t really writing, I was writing out a plan for what I should write next, and I know this means that it only sort-of counts as writing. What I want to write next has a basic form, of course characters. But there is a lot missing, which is why I am afraid to start. I don’t need an ultimate destination of course, but I need a direction to point myself in.

People ask me a lot what I am reading. I am glad that they ask, that they know I read a lot, that they are interested in my choices, that my choices may have some bearing on their own. But all I read are students’ papers, stories and poems I am teaching, notes I’m preparing, words I have written. My weeks are so full that I don’t have the time to make for books. My weeks are so full that I keep my weekends almost completely empty.

I tell my students that the creative process is really the spontaneous combination of things scattered all over your brain. A guy you saw in a train station three weeks ago, a story your grandma told you about her life thirty years ago, the way that jerk broke your heart, the song you hear on the way to class, it just all sort of magnetizes and somehow comes together.

I can’t find those things in my brain; I can’t get them to fit together. They are there, of course they are there, because they are things I have seen and felt and thought and imagined or whatever. Being an artist means knowing how to assemble them, how to arrange them, how to harmonize them.

My memory is holding these things hostage. Instead, it offers up to me things I won’t bring myself to write about, things I haven’t figured out, things that are dreary and boring. It is trying to artifically contruct a kind of melancholy for me by flooding my mind with things that happened six years ago, things that I have been over so many times that I have already robbed them of their creative potential. Essentially, my memory is boring me.

This is because my memory is a monster.

“Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you – and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you.” –John Irving

Now generally, when I read this line from A Prayer for Owen Meany, I think of my memory as a monster because it does something like this:

The song, the first notes of which summon a wave. You don’t choose which things to summon, so if it brings you flashes of kisses and your hand being held, glances and knowing laughs, you feel something sharp that you may even try to physically shake from your head. But it might be the stalled conversations, or that fatal conversation, the mistake you made that, when you made it, and every time you’re forced, by the monster, into recalling it, you look away. Then it’s different, it’s dull, it’s almost elucidating.

But now, today, I need these memories, personal or impersonal, things I’ve experience or simply been witness to, ideas I’ve thought of, stories I’ve heard, small details stored somewhere, and yes, fatal conversations, or at least the analysis conversation with someone else about that fatal conversation.  I am seeking the wave, I need the flood, I want to be awash in things being summoned so rapidly that I have no choice but to write. And my memory holds them from me.

And the day I am not ready, the day I’ve had enough and I am not seeking out feelings from the past, but rather being innundated with stress in the present, this seemingly unshakable levee will break.  And I will, once again, for yet another reason, call it a monster.