Friday, February 19, 2010

Writing and Memory

When I recollect my early writing experiments and what went with them, I realize it was a product of mutually influential creative interactions with people close to me, starting in seventh grade. I've carried what I gained beginning then through my life without thinking about it much. It hit me around 30 years ago when I first started writing as a livelihood.

I never thought my memory was anything unusual. When I started telling my brothers and sister about things which happened when I was two that they didn’t remember, I took some notice. There are things I remember all the time without trying; not all of them great memories either, of course. If there is something I want to call up, I usually start with the objects and the faces of those involved. Once you dig out the object world and the visuals of people, the incidents follow. It’s visual and it’s also aural—the sound of a friend's voice in telephone conversations we had in 1966, for example. I can conjure it up right now. Not that that makes me different. But it is an important part of what makes me a writer.

It relates to music. Musical-memory and writing-memory are related. It has to do with the sound of life, your life.

Like sometimes I’d be talking a mile a minute on the phone about something and I’d stop and ask the other person something and that person would blurt out the answer in a low-high, two toned answer. That, like music, stays in my memory and always will. And when I write I hear my past, like that two-toned phrase, and it's part of what prefigures my excursion into words.

I can remember just about everything outside of the classroom from 7th grade on—activity wise—what movies, what plays, and you name it. That is true of my interactions with all my friends, and every Christmas. I remember and can conjure up in my head every record I ever had and what it sounded like. It’s the visual and aural memories that are especially vivid. I’ll remember distinctly conversations with certain college girlfriends but wont always recall their names straight off, sometimes.

That is not to say I remember everything about everything, just those things that somehow were important experientially in my life. I think it really became more active when I started writing the first novel 15 years ago. I needed to create a fictional world out of pieces of my life and so started conjuring up in contemplation all sorts of pieces of my memory life from which I picked and chose in constructing my scene and plot.

The main house involved in the first novel (Pineapple Still-Life) is a cross between the house I grew up in Pompton Plains until 1956, parts of the Kinnelon house, a few apartments (Boston, Chicago) and very strangely enough (I am not kidding) the house my wife and I live in now that we bought only after I finished the novel and had not seen before in my life!! The main characters in the novel are pieces of people—the two female leads are part my mother, my sister, old girlfriends, my wife, some friends I knew at the time, my cat of childhood, etc. In constructing these situations and people I started really being able to conjure up near totalities and then play with the combinations of them in imagining this world of 1955 Butler and an artist couple who lived there.

So writing is memory transfigured. It also is crafting. The first two chapters for example I rewrote about 10 or 11 times, at least. There is the additive way to go about things and that's one way—you string something together and add on; then of course subtractive, what you end up erasing.

Just a few thoughts. . .

All sort of in the light of Shakespeare:

“Look what is best, that best I wish in thee:
This wish I have; ten times happy me!”

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