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.

 

Break. December 21, 2008

When I was a student, summer and winter breaks were great. I spent a week at home with my folks and the rest of the time at my house, with my friends, doing what college and grad students do. Mostly drinking, smoking cigarettes, playing cards while drinking and, on one occasion, convincing my friends not jump from rooftops to cure their boredom.

So what if, now that I am at least a partial grown-up, I don’t want to spend the entire time drinking? What if I want to watch good movies and read good books and spend time writing and creating things. What if I want to do all of the things I wished I had time for when I was teaching/grading, but never get around to?

My students’ papers needing to be graded always supersedes my desire to read a great book or write something I’ve had on my mind.

So here I am. The break I have been dreaming of for months. I have the pile of great books, the list of essay ideas.

So here’s the list of things I’ve done so far on my break:

1. Read three of the four Twilight books.

2. Made a photo collage for our family Christmas card.

3. Baked cookies.

4. Drank some beers. But it doesn’t count when I’m in my parents’ house. That’s not like partying. At least not a good kind.

5. Watched at least four episodes of NCIS.

6. Watched a Christmas movie on the Hallmark channel.

7. Ordered useless shit on Amazon.

9. Made a Best of 2008 set of Mix CDs.

I am bored. But, simultaneously, want to do nothing that requires an abundance of upper-level thinking. Because my brain already knows what is coming next semester.

 

My memory is a monster. June 25, 2008

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

 

Five Things. April 26, 2008

I know that everyone thinks that they have the coolest friends. Well, maybe some people, like girls who pass out on a bed at a stranger’s house and get left there by their friends. Maybe these girls don’t wake up thinking they have the coolest friends.

In fact, I woke up hating that friend but calling several others who helped me find my way home on foot, who called and got someone to bring me my spare house key, since that girl who left me there, she had my keys. But that was long ago. 

A week ago, two of my best friend wrote poems about me, and then read them to a fairly large audience that included many other of my best friends and my parents. After they read their poetry, I read the most personal essay I’ve ever read aloud, and when I glanced up between sentences, I saw them all really listening to me. My friends who weren’t there read the essay and emailed me their comments, texted me good luck and their regret at not being able to make it, their wishes to have made it.

Seeing I was nervous just before going on stage, my father bought me coffee, my mom bragged to my friends and students about me, a friend I’d met only a few weeks before pepped talked me and joked with me. These isn’t the job for your best friend–the prepping. I needed accolades from someone new; I needed to be comforted by someone for the first time.

Yesterday, one of my best friends and I talked for an hour or so, making plans about convening our lives in the future, tying up the loose ends of frivolity, making something of the last of our free years and doing something that we are uniquely capable of doing. It’s a strong contender for my list of best conversations ever. It just had the right feeling, that conversation, the right amount of compliments and comfort tempered with sarcasm, doubt and drinking. And really, those five things define me more so than any other five I can think of.

I’ve said “best friends” many times in this post, and you should know this isn’t a term I use as loosely as it may seem. These people, they really are that great.