In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse.
T S Eliot, The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock
How well do you remember your life? How do you remember your life? Has the way you remember your life shaped it? How real are your memories? Are your memories visual? These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering recently. Why?
Having just finished a three year work, I find myself as I usually find myself when I have finished something long and deeply absorbing at a loss, empty and not so much depressed as bereft. That thing that filled my days (what are days for?) has gone, a kind of death.
And in that state, with very little in the way of work to keep me distracted, I began to think about my life, that life which is heading for the neon exit sign. And, as I am a writer, I thought I should write about it. But what? Not another (fucking) memoir. Not another – what are they called in academia? – life story. I mulled. And mulled.
It is difficult for me. You see, my memory is not your standard chronological measured out in coffee spoons life.
It is more a series of vignettes, flashes, video clips. Just now, as I write this, I had a vivid image of my mother swimming at Camp Cove, and the little dog – not ours but a neighbour’s, he adopted us – swimming out to save her. Tigger – the dog – was worried about my mother being in the water. It became a story told over and over again. And perhaps, like many of my memories, it is not: a memory that is, but the memory of a family story grown to legendary status. Like the first entry in this book. But I digress. This is not going to be about the source of memories. But the memories themselves. And their impact upon my life.
You see, as I began to mull over my life, it occurred to me that there were a series of these memory clips attached to important turning points in my life. Decisive moments. Not that I necessarily understood that at the time – except for one and we will get to that – but they are among the most vivid of my memories. And then I had the form for this book.
A series of these clips in more or less chronological order which will explain me to myself and me to you reading this and, hopefully and more importantly, you to yourself.
Because as I began to think on these moments, I began to realise that many were more than decisive, they were defining. They made me who I am today, for better or often for worse.
But there is much debate on memory and history. In The New York Times Jill Ker Conway wrote:
Whether we are aware of it or not, our culture gives us an inner script by which we live our lives. The main acts for the play come from the way our world understands human development; the scenes and key characters come from our families and socialization, which provide the pattern for investing others with emotional significance; and the dynamics of the script come from what our world defines as success or achievement.
I’d go a little further and say that, in my case, I’m not sure whether my inner script, which I have characterised as memory clips, has been chosen by my subconscious to give meaning to my life, to shape it, to determine how I react to the world around me. Or is that exactly what Ms Conway is saying? Whatever, as the irritating modern world would reply.
And one more thing. As a writer, and specifically in my fiction, I often cannot distinguish between an invention and reality. Am I alone here? Did I invent that scene with my mother and my father fighting, late at night, or did I remember it?
I believe wholeheartedly in serendipity, especially as it affects my writing. But whether a serendipitous event comes about because of an idea already implanted or whether it is placed in front of me by the writer’s god (Ganesha), who knows? As Jung writes in his foreword to the I Ching, the Book of Changes:
The ancient wisdom of the East lays stress upon the fact that the intelligent individual realizes his own thoughts, but not in the least upon the way in which he does it.
In this instance, the serendipitous event was coming across a poem from Edward Estlin Cummings, a poet I have not read for years. The poem was mentioned in a review of a book by the (by now) late Clive James. Its significance will become obvious to you once you begin this book. TO BE CONTINUED