Greg and I were Going Out. In high school, that was a big deal. Anyone could date, but Going Out was serious. It meant passing cryptic and affectionate notes to each other in class. It meant slowly and unconsciously beginning to dress like each other. It meant sharing friends, having comfortable dinners with each other’s families, and loyal monogamy. And it meant making out.
My mother and I are working our way down to Moab, where I will be leaving her in the care of my brother. A road trip with her is a risky thing; in motion, she can become as unmoored as any poor creature in the universe, and as desperate. Thus, I have put Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion in the tape deck, thinking it will sooth her and, if our luck holds, buy us a hundred or so miles of calm. It’s worked. For a long time we have been mostly silent, caught in a spell of organ and strings.
He works in mathematical algorithms; I work in failed utterances. In the borders of what language can’t or won’t or shouldn’t say, but does. And vice versa. Sometimes I wish I could explain why this leads to sleepless nights, or how it feels to be overcome by that frustrating yet oh so exhilarating, even sexy, burning fire to simply express.
Like the House of Cadmus—the doomed royal family of Oedipus and Antigone—the gods cursed my family. No, we’re not doomed to marry one another and gouge our eyes out with stickpins. Instead, the gods constructed our bodies like those wooden puppets one finds in old time toy shops—those rigid little soldiers or scarecrows who stand erect on cylindrical pedestals, but who, with the press of a small button, instantly dissolve into a crumpled jumble of limbs.
There are family traditions, then there are family traditions. Ours was the Thanksgiving sage stuffing. My immediate family now deceased, I’m not embarrassed to say this single tradition stood alone among our more common conventions of secrets, indiscretions and the occasional malfeasance. These things were our family traditions to the younger me, growing up in two households in Hawaii in the sixties.
There is a wide divide between reality and remembering, and the memoirist is often left alone in his or her struggle to straddle that gap.
That’s why organizations such as the National Association of Memoir Writers, or NAMW, are so vital to a memoirist’s world. It’s the most important thing you can do for yourself as a writer: surround yourself with other writers. And for memoirists in particular, it’s often therapeutic to meet and converse with others who are facing the same challenges.
Twitter is the consummate writer’s salon. Like the salons of old, it is a forum for the exchange of ideas. That alone is a boon to writers – the ebb and flow of “why” and “how.” Politics, philosophy, science, religion and gossip intersect in the slipstream, the crisscrossing currents. Between the spoken and implied, we discover characters to hatch, plots to ripen, settings to evolve. The daily unfolding of millions of lives is a trove awaiting plunder.
Someone once said that writers write the stories that they badly want to read. These stories that writers write in order to read the stories they badly want to read are the stories that writers remember. Sometimes the words are overwhelming, if only because they often live inside for so long. These words become memories of events that have or haven’t happened, depending on the writer’s genre: nonfiction or fiction. These memories – our memories – inform who we are and what we do.
I don’t know why my father went to Walmart in the first place (probably in search of his two favorite staples – skim milk and orange juice with lots of pulp), but I do remember the wide smile he wore when he came into the kitchen and set his bag on the counter.