Sunday, June 15, 2008

Substantial Reclamation

Dreams littered with stirred up memories. Old locations. The high school attended, the elementary school, the childhood crushes and vanities and sorrows. Learning to walk through the woods to get home to avoid the bullies, a history of violence leading to nature's first communion. The church of the redwing blackbird. Finding old photographs that depict a boy full of silence, a quiet tight-lipped concentrator on things others never noticed. Playing piano on a summer afternoon shirtless in the heat snapshot photographed by amateur family camera embarrassed by either shirtlessness or photographer's distraction while playing a difficult piece. Youthful stage-fright. Another photograph sitting at breakfast table reading a magazine surrounded by flowers winter weekend morning snow outside flowers in vase on table. Something romantic about the image, something lovely. Parents trusted boy at home when going to evening concerts, trusted him not to get into trouble. How he wishes he had, certain kinds of trouble anyway. Dreams always in color, memories always colored, photographs sometimes black and white. dreams of flying down the school corridors, or flying outside, avoiding trees and powerlines. Another photograph of washing the family car, wearing only a swimsuit, water, suds, and glasses. Always wearing glasses. A serious boy at any age. In camera's eye few smiles fully bright few grins unguarded, always something in the eyes that doubts questions seriously wonders. Fresh lithe limbs with old man's gaze. Dreams inhabit some memories more than others, coloring perceptions, waking up stirred and troubled, needing to revisit old locations, revisiting feelings sifted for places to be now, here, now, then, awakened fluttering in the breast come morning waking alone.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

This block of text quite fascinated me. You are clearly at an important point in your life one that I personally body-swerved when it was my time and am only now trying to investigate, although not very effectively, in my current novel which I've been more not writing than writing for the last couple of years. What struck me about this paragraph, and it's come across in a lot of your recent posts, is the issue of identity that seems to be preoccupying you. Who am I without my parents? Who was I when I was with my parents? Memories I find, even the ones we cherish, are incredibly inaccurate and I often wonder just how much we do fictionalise our pasts. And as long as we don't know we're doing it, how much harm does it really do? Then again, I've long believed that this clamouring after "the truth" is an overrated and potentially self-defeating exercise.

2:06 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Part of the source of this personal archaeology, or memory mining if you will, is that we've been so focused on closing down our parents' house. We're almost done with that process, and it will soon be up for sale. Meanwhile, I've bought my own new place, and moved.

We keep finding old photos and scrapbooks: family history. I guess this could be part of the Photography as Memory series I've been writing, too.

The clamouring after some objective "truth" as though it were a scientific/historically accurate goal, is indeed problematic. Memoir is notoriously self-serving. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. But I think it's important to find one's own truth, and realize that the validity of emotional memory is relevant. One needs to revisit one's own past, to find what was there, and clear and release it, in a way not unlike clearing out the physical objects left over from the death of one's parents. You can't just throw it all away: memories matter, because memory constructs the self, in many ways.

At the same time, while total objectivity isn't possible, I don't think collapsing into some sort of solipsistic subjectivity is useful, either. There may be family events for which everyone has a different memory, or a different interpretation. Sometimes some people cling to their version of the truth much more tightly than others; and invest themselves in it much more.

For me, it's not important, necessarily, who's "right" and who's "wrong," when it comes to personal family memories. It's what you do next that counts. You can fight about it. You can also come to an understanding that both positions are true for the persons involved, and also versions of some larger more encompassing truth.

In going back over my family photos, it's not only the question of who I am now without my parents. Although that's really important to figure out. It's also about writing about myself as a boy, and remembering who I was then, and perhaps figuring out why I was the way I was. Autobiography can be a form of self-analysis, of psychological self-awareness: how did I get here? It doesn't have to be self-justification.

I expect more of these little texts will keep coming out. Prose-poems, I think. I'm not writing much at all, except for this sort of thing, for now. I guess it reflects the rest of the process I'm going through. The issue of identity is an important one for me, even if I don't like all the easy and convenient labels that are available. I look at the boy I was, in those old photos, and see the potential to become who I am now, but also other potentials. I remember choices I made, in some cases mistakes, in others not, and wonder what would have happened had I chosen otherwise.

10:03 AM  

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