Friday, May 16, 2014

Memoir and Mystery

Watching the mystery of flight 370 on CNN at the airport, I think about how it is even possible that a plane can disappear. It seems apt, for me, writing a memoir called Bermuda Triangles, and I suddenly flash back to my mystery phase of peri-adolescence, that time of tween-ness when life itself seemed mysterious and so did the world. I read a lot of RL Stine and Chrisopher Pike, graduating to Stephen King once my father died.

During this time my dad was dying of cancer. I can't help but think, though I know plenty of tweens go through phases of fascination like this, that part of my seeking had to do with that: wanting to cure him, figure out the universe. My parents were, for the most part, both rationalists. They poo-pooed God, and any kind of religion, declaring that if - IF - some kind of spirit exists, it is unknowable by nature. Things happened for reasons. Though I don't recall ever actually discussing The Bermuda Triangle or ghosts or other apparitions with either parent, I am certain I did not bring these up because I sensed that in our house they were seen as conspiracy theories or delusions.

My father haunted me after he died. I never discussed this with my mother, but frequently I would hear the sound of his walker, which he used in the last months of his life, waking me in my sleep and I was sure I would see him there, at the top of the stairs, looking in my bedroom door. He never did appear in any literal ghost-form, but he definitely haunted me.

My mother got desperately into mysteries: Agatha Christie, the show Mystery! on public television. When I asked her how she could read such light stuff, such crap (this is the woman who pressured me to read all of Dickens before age 15, like she had; a woman with a Master's in Russian) she shrugged. She explained that after Dad's death, she needed answers - and these books had answers, formulas, known solutions.

Back to the television, all of the answers lined up, the conversations on Facebook about easy-possible solutions, conspiracy theories, I wonder about the significance of my parents' very likely potential denial of the mystery of Bermuda Triangle. I do not have an opinion one way or the other, about the literal Bermuda Triangle: do I think it actually exists? To me it doesn't matter. My memoir isn't about that. It is about these mysterious areas that exist without question in our lives, and about which we all have different stories. And the places where we - where I - definitely got lost. Why lost? Lost for good? All of these questions remain. Cause and effect are not so linearly explained. Just knowing that there's an unknown there is enough for me. Touching the mystery - any mystery.

If I had lost someone on that flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, I'd have different feelings about it. I am aware I am using an actual occurrence - a few of them - as metaphor here. I don't do it callously - I have lost a lot of people to quite clinical and real forms of death, but I have also lost people to no one knows what. Death of old age, broken heart, no one particular symptom they could look back and say was the cause of death. And even if we do know a cause, does that make death any less mysterious?

If we are honest, it does not.

And to my mind, memoir - good memoir - isn't about answering questions, either. It isn't about solutions, it is about exploring mystery. Minding it. Mining it, but without the aggression we so often over-apply to our lives. Simply exploring, as Peter Gabriel puts it, "Digging in the Dirt."

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