Yesterday’s fish has gotten stuck in my head and pulled me along other twists and turns through that mysterious place called The Past.
I heard a theory that memory is not something tucked away in a file cabinet in your brain. It is not a bit of RAM (or whatever you calls these information bits) stored as if your brain were really a computer. Far more fascinating and disturbing is this theory that every time you remember something, you recreate (build) the memory entirely–and this is why memories change, fail, and are easily manipulated. Some research suggests that the more you remember something, the less accurate the memory is…
So with all that in mind, I shall dust of my builder’s set and sit down on my little raft and have a go at remembering those moments and scenes that made me this writer, this me.
I remember my mother and I in her car on one of those Florida roads that is lined with pine trees and palmettos and seems be going nowhere until you are, surprise, in a sea of strip malls. One of us (possibly me since it involved an annoying pop-psychology question–and I was the one with the drawing test, after all) asked, “You are walking through a forest and suddenly an obstacle appears in your way. What kind of obstacle is it and what is on the other side?” Your answer–for those of you who missed that college party–is supposed to reveal your attitude towards death. My mom (who died about five years after this conversation) said that the obstacle was a fallen tree, a tree larger than a RedWood and it went on and on and she didn’t want to try to walk around it, but maybe she would sit for a while and then she would climb over it. And what was on the other side? More forest. More of the same. (Obviously you’re supposed to answer the question without knowing it’s about death.)
I think of that tree when I think about writing and the imagination. Maybe that’s a stretch, but when I’m trying to find the story in my head, I feel there is an obstacle in my way and I’ve got to get through it or under it or around it and most likely when I get to the other side–things may very well be the same…but different. And a little while later down the path is another tree. Or maybe this time a wall.
On a good day there is a door to walk through and I have the key. On the worst day I use my fingers to dig a tunnel through and I leave some skin and fingernails along the way. But it never occurs to me to go back. (I’m always baffled by people who answer the question saying they would do just that–turn around and go home. These have got to be people who feel relieved when Dorothy ends up back in Kansas.)
Why my mom’s symbol of death and the afterlife should have become my symbol for the imagination, I don’t have the energy to answer. But the mind works in odd and baffling ways, and I may very well not have all the pieces to my builder’s set…