“What is startling about memory is its willful persistence and obsession with detail. ‘Hold on,’ it says. ‘Don’t lose this.’ The other day I unexpectedly found myself seeing the shape of the knobs at the top of the low iron posts that stand along the paths of Central Park — a magnolia bud or perhaps an acorn — and then, long before this, the way such posts looked when they were connected by running strands of heavy wire, which were slightly bent into irregularity and almost loose to the touch. Going down a path in those days you could hook the first joints of your forefinger and second finger over the darkly shining wire and feel it slither along under your touch. In winter, you could grab the wire in your gloved or mittened hand and rush along, friction free, and make it bouce or shiver when you reached the next post and had to let go. But what’s the point of this, I wonder, what’s my mind doing back there. A week or so before he died, my father, in his eighties, he told me he’d been thinking about a little red shirt that he’d worn when he was four or five years old. ‘Isn’t that strange?’ he said.”
From “Let Me Finish,” (c) 2006 Roger Angell
This is from Angell’s memoir. In the introduction, Angell explains that he never planned to write a memoir and never kept a journal, and that an earlier piece about this father caused some consternation in the family. “Our stories about our own lives are a form of fiction, I began to see, and become more insistent as we grow older, even as we try to make them come out some other way.”
Yes. But — alas — few of of us are Roger Angell. (Oh why, oh why isn’t “Three for the Tigers” on the web? I so wish I could link to it here.)
Angell, however, provides a good jumping-off point for a memory/writing exercise. Think about a tactile experience, or some childish habit, inexplicable to the adults around you, the adult you might become. The first place my mind jumped was my practice, at age 10 or 11, of hoisting myself up between the two ledges of the check-out counters in the Giant on Ingleside Road. I was useless in gymnastics class, but I could swing my legs quite easily in the Giant, using the ridged metal counters as my parallel bars. But my mind can’t stay there — it jumps to the Friday afternoon ritual of grocery shopping, a cashier named Yvette, the plastic tags we hung on our carts until we retrieved them. (Rolling a shopping cart into the parking lot wasn’t allowed then.)
Meanwhile, as long as we’re on the subject of writers I like, I visited Valerie Frankel’s <a href=”http://www.valeriefrankel.com”_blank”>blog</a>
after a long absence. It is one of the most joyful blogs in existence, bursting with enthusiasm. But I don’t think I really understood the sheer willfulness of that joy until I read <a href=”http://www.self.com/livingwell/articles/2007/08/0807shallowval_1″_blank”>”Shallow Val</a>. I find Valerie Frankel’s alleged shallowness a far more impressive achievement than the moody brooding of so many other writers (myself included).