Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What Happens When We Forget It All?

Closed, Milwaukee WI, 2011

What happens when we can't express it all? 

When we can't recall it all?

When we have to make things up?

When we have to let things go?

This post is the spontaneous intersection of three things I have encountered today:

1. This amazing post in the Draft column of NYT called Forgetting It All.

2. Finally actually reading The Butterfly and The Bell Jar by Jean-Dominique Bauby. I saw the beautiful movie years ago, but I forgot about the book until I read about it recently in Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart (which is an excellent book on memoir, btw). Seeing - feeling how his incredibly, necessarily short and pungent sensory descriptions are so often based in memory because he has lost so much ability to express and even to experience his world directly.

3. A conversation with a friend about whether a modernist angle of working with what we recall from now about then is enough, or if, in memoir, we should go back into source material to try and reproduce it (because I am digging around in my teenaged journals at the moment for memoir purposes).

At the intersection of memory - doggedly debated as reliable or mostly fictional - and creativity - alternately called beautiful expression and terrible deception - lies some kind of truth. Some kind of knowing what feels right. What expresses what happened, what we recall of what happened, what expresses the under feeling of what happened in a way that can be understood for now.

In writing my main memoir, Bermuda Triangles, I keep encountering a new shift, especially when revising with my memoir critique group, every time I sit down to revise. I started this book thinking it was about my early sexuality, then realized it's about victim hood. I started it with thinly veiled references to hating my mother only to realize I didn't. Not only have my feelings changed over time, my interpretation of them has changed.

What a mess, one might say? So complicated. Only that is how life is. Memoir, if it is anything, is less a reflection of memory than it is of life. Messy. Complicated. Contradictory. Then again, memory, if it is accurate, is just like life - messy, complicated and contradictory. That's how we know we are on the right track.

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