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Dance with the one who brought you.

at a wedding

at a wedding

My father often said to me, “You’re all the time thinking. Don’t you know anything?”

No. No, I don’t.

A while back, I put forth this notion of a book swap/discussion–a previous post. Shelly was kind enough to send me The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. I am supposed to send a book in return. But what book do you send someone who’s read close to everything and who knows what he’s talking about? I look at the books I love and think–I don’t know anything.

But The Echo Maker struck a nerve. A character is in an accident and suffers a brain injury. Now, if I couldn’t be a writer or artist or teacher, and I was brilliant enough, I’d be a neuroscientist. (Do you ever listen to Radio Lab? Amazing stuff about the brain.) Much of the bits in the novel about the brain and all the things that can go wrong with it, I’d read before.

The character with the brain injury, Mark, doesn’t accept his sister, Karen, after his accident. As far as he is concerned, the woman who is taking care of him looks like his sister but is an impostor. Nothing Karen does can convince him that she is who she is. Her memories of their childhood and of their relationship fall apart. The neuroscientist who gets involved with Mark’s case has his own sense of cracked and turned around.

So. A few months ago someone from my past found me (thank you facebook) and now several people from another life have found me, and now my own memories seem called into question. I’ve written down many memories here, and to the best of my ability and knowledge, they are true. I’ve got my own filters and memory flaws–I’m sure I’ve gotten a few words wrong here and there. But the truth of it, my perception, the fact of the event is always true.

Thanks to certain people back in my life, gaps in my memory are being filled in. While I can’t say I was wrong about things that happened, I’m questioning how I saw things. Why is it I hate my hometown when everyone else remembers it fondly? Why do they remember me at all when I remember being invisible? Of course, I’ve also been told recently that I think a lot, perhaps too much.

And I’m selling art. I’ve had a bit of success. This has challenged my image of my self as someone who never on that side of things. If I’m wrong about that, where else am I wrong?

But think about this–how would you react if someone you loved refused to believe you are who you are and you can’t just leave this person?

Have you ever felt a book came into your life at just the right time? That it connected to your life in a way few books–even great ones you love–can do?

15 thoughts on “Dance with the one who brought you.

  1. Knowing my lack of self-confidence, I think I would question whether I am the person I think I am. ~Miriam

  2. I have this exact same issue. I’ve worried and anguished over whether I’m who I think I am, or if the events in my life were real, or if I had any facts right in my head at all. I came to wonder if the drugs I took as a child for asthma and the various treatments had some sort of physiological impact on the functioning of my brain.

    People from my past ask, “Remember this?” or “Remember that?” I don’t. I say things and they don’t remember what I’m talking about. I remember few things from my childhood, just snippets and vague senses of things. I’ve questioned myself so many ways I can’t count them anymore.

    I’ve considered neuroscience too. If my eyesight were better and I had the money, I’d pursue it. I’m not sure if it’s early Alzheimer’s symptoms I’ve got or if I’m just not great at remember the distant past.

    My high school days seem like a blur. I was “invisible” too, but I’ve distanced myself from those I know so far and so well I can’t get feedback on veracity anyway. I guess it doesn’t matter.

    The one person who’s helped me restore some calm, some sanity, is my wife. She remembers a lot of the events I do, verifies I’m not damaged or cracked beyond functionality, and anchors me in the reality I thought existed as much as she can. The rest? I don’t worry about it anymore.

    And the only book that had the impact you’re talking about on me was the Bible.

    You’re not alone. I’m there with you.

  3. My family used to say — and maybe they still believe — that I am some sort of childhood-memory savant.

    But my sisters, brother, and I started a private group blog in which to record our memories of growing up, with the intention of ultimately saving and sharing it all with the next generation (particularly so that the people in our lives then won’t go unremembered in the future). I’m dumbfounded about how many things I don’t remember and how many things I thought I remembered but, uh, well, don’t.

    My only conclusion has been that I must have sleep-walked through those decades, waking up only long enough to see something really critical (especially to me, me, me) but otherwise remembering my detailed dreams as if they were actual events which happened exactly as I remember them.

    All of which, yes, has made me wonder if I “am” who and what I always thought. My blind spots about myself have caused, well, let’s say they’ve caused too many people too much grief.

    It’s pretty appalling.

    (And re: this post’s title — for years, I never believed that to be true. But things change. And I know now that I’m as gifted as talking myself out of dance partners for totally made-up reasons as I am at talking myself into new ones. That’s no way to live, not for someone who (as it happens) doesn’t know himself that well after all.)

    (P.S. You needn’t understand that last parenthetical paragraph to refer literally to people as the “dance partners.” But it does work that way, too.)

    • I rarely think about not having siblings, but once in a while I wish I had a sibling or two to talk to about childhood. Even if we disagreed, it’d be nice to have someone in my life who knew me when.

  4. I started writing a journal at 12 because I had a bad memory and couldn’t remember things. I didn’t want to lose things. I didn’t want to lose me, I think.

    But I think maybe we are not just one person, one monolithic personality. I think we are a whole host of characters inside of us. They come to the fore in different moments. We think we are just the one thing and everyone else sees the multitude? Or maybe they see the parts of us that they themselves bring out.

    Oh, never mind. I think I’m saying nonsense.

    But then, if I hadn’t been a writer/artist/teacher, I think I might have been a philosopher. Or a biologist. Which wouldn’t make that statement make any better sense.

  5. I’ve talked to a lot of people from my past lately, and what that’s taught me is that everybody keeps different memories. Different things are going to stick with each person. And it’s good to question your memories some, because it’s easier to be forgiving if there’s a chance you were wrong. It’s easier to let things go. I like how your success is changing your perception of yourself.

    As to your questions, 1) I’d stay and do my duty and slowly kill myself with doubt, and 2) sometimes I think God speaks to me through books. Not the words, but the messages they contain only for me. We need to set up a chat date.

  6. 1) I wasn’t “seen” by my ex for who I was, and at first I tried to adapt to who he thought I was or at least who I should be. Then I said to hell with it and became myself again.

    2) I’ve had the experience many times of a book entering my life at just the right time. I’m very grateful for that.

    My childhood memories are foggy at best. I used to want to know more. Now I don’t- I prefer having my own memories to do with as I please. When someone contradicts what I remember, it feels like a part of me has been taken away.

  7. You have said it! I think what bothers me when people from my past say things that contradict what I remember, I’ve lost something of myself. It is hard to know what to do with that loss.

  8. “how would you react if someone you loved refused to believe you are who you are and you can’t just leave this person?”

    I think I lived a majority of my life (to this point!) that way – around people who refused to believe that I was who I said I was. After a while you just stop saying it, since no one believes you anyway. Eventually I moved on, because you can leave those people.

    As for books hitting me at just the right time? Yes, 3 – the Bible, The Gospel According to Job, and Champagne for the Soul. 🙂

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