Last night I hung out with a boy named Leo. Our parents are friends and I have vague memories of playing together as children, back in the days of Windows 98. Maybe even before that. I remember his dad having this pad hooked up to the computer where you could draw on it and it would appear on the screen. I thought it was magic. That’s about the only memory I have tied to him.
We’ve been facebook friends for a couple years now, I think, never really having met each other. We were both aware of the fact that we had things in common, though – he’s a writer who spent some time as an English major. So I figured we would have a lot to talk about. We did – a lot about books, writing, comedy, movies, and music. At one point, he asked if I liked writing or reading better.
It honestly stumped me for a minute. I want to say that I like writing better, but I read much more than I write. So, I told him about my writer’s dilemma which is basically every writer’s dilemma: lots of ideas bouncing around in my head that never actually get written down. Or they do get written down, but only in short fragments (“the scent of wine!” “relationship and nail color = personal evolution primarily in pink” “miss to ma’am” “I’ll explain everything to the geeks”) that I intend to expand upon. Inevitably, I never do. Then I’m doomed with the writer’s guilt of having ideas but never doing anything about them.
“You know that most writers are tortured, right?” he asked.
Of course I knew that. Then I recalled that notebook I carry around for when inspiration strikes. It’s been a few days since I’ve written in it. He also asked what my dream job was and for once, I gave an honest answer: “I want to sit around and write about myself all day and get paid for it.”
That inevitably led to a short discussion about how being a writer is proclaiming to the world that you’re at least a little bit of an egomaniac since the very act of writing is asserting that your words, opinion, or perspective demands attention. It was refreshing to be able to talk about this in such a frank way. I’m all about self-deprecation, and since my writing is often a very personal subject, it was fun to make fun of it.
I decided to resolve my writing/reading dilemma this morning by actually writing instead of just thinking about it.
I’ve had this book, Writing Life Stories, for a few months now. It’s full of great exercises that I read through. That’s important: I read through them, I didn’t do them. So, to start out, I did a few. The first chapter is all about accessing your memory; exercises included mapping out a childhood neighborhood (done very sloppily and not at all to scale), writing a story about the map (I wrote about meeting my friend Allie), and charting a year of your life. Through all of this I discovered one thing: Memory is weird.
While drawing the map, I recalled things I had completely forgotten about: short-lived friendships with girls who lived on the far corner of my block for a summer or two, Allie and I whistling across the yards to each other at night, the prickliness of weeds in tall grass, and how my most vivid memories of my friendship with Allie take place in the summers.
I thought I wouldn’t have a problem charting out a year from my high school days, but that was near impossible. The years all blend together and I can’t even remember what I did for my senior homecoming. I don’t even know if I went. I have flashes of events: losing a friend, getting dumped, an audition, doing a synchronized swimming routine to a Postal Service song (yes, that actually happened), falling in love, meeting significant people…but the order of these events is unclear to me. I also found that most years prior to 2006 are completely blurred to me.
The good news is that somewhere, I have a box of journals where I can find that information. I’ve always known how difficult it can be to access memories and I think that’s part of the reason I started journaling at such a young age. I’m sure that when I go through them I’ll be reminded of things I don’t even realize happened.
Funny how things seem so important in the moment in which they happen but then fade so quickly.