Thursday, August 26, 2010


The school year is starting and my paying work is taking more time. So the writing I've been doing on my own is likely to slow even more. But it's been interesting and rewarding in its way. I don't know that this writing will ever be published, so it needs to be its own reward, especially the process of it. And it has been, in unexpected ways.

There's the intellectual/artistic challenge of what is in a sense simply following my instincts and predilections on how I want to proceed. In writing about my own childhood, I start with memories but test them against what facts can be determined. I may depart occasionally and only slightly from when certain personal or family events occurred--but not the public chronologies, the verifiable history. And this is what has been liberating in a way--I'm not even considering pushing things to extremes or creating drama or quirkiness or whatever one imagines would make this either a more commercial story or writing that attempts to fulfill any number of literary expectations. In the decisions I've made so far, simply to satisfy my own curiosity or to follow my own instincts, it's developed a life of its own.

In part I'm approaching this as anthropology--in fact, I have had for years a set of questions that an anthropologist investigates in an unfamiliar culture, on the first page of the master notebook I've kept for decades on this project. That sense of an approach has become more pertinent now, as the world of my childhood is largely gone, a vanished culture.

The investigations often begin by testing the accuracy of my memories--usually very specific if scattered moments-- especially in terms of where I place them in my life. For example, I recall being a Cub Scout in fourth grade, and a few things about it. So I researched a bit about Cub Scouts, and first learned that by today's standards, I would have been a bit old for starting. But researching further, I learned that in the 1950s, Cub Scouts did begin at an older age, at 9.

Especially in confronting that fourth grade year, I am astonished at how much I was doing, how much I was required to learn in many domains. Carving a narrative out of all that is challenging. Placing my memories in context also of family history as I know it--or with the help of others, can at least approximately figure out--is both a challenge and a reward.

There's also been the reward of remembering more in the process of writing. The memories newly revived that mean the most to me are probably the details. For example, I suddenly remembered a certain kind of coffee cup my mother (and father) used--it was a set that looked pretty much like the one in the photo above. And I remembered this: although to get from the kitchen to my room meant walking through the dining room, living room and in the hall hanging a hard right facing the bathroom, the back of the kitchen closet was also the back of the closet in my room--that is, they were back to back. It was a quirk of the layout. But it meant that when I was in my room and my mother called me to dinner, she opened the kitchen closet door and called me from there. I was just on the other side.

No comments: