A Time for Looking Back

I’m big on memories. Sometimes I wonder if that’s a product of my age, but then at our family gatherings of three generations, sooner or later, the reminiscing begins. Memory is our personal history book, skewed of course, but still. I’ve spent some time looking back this week.

lookbackNot too long ago, I mentioned that I was re-watching the X-Files series. Last week, I watched an episode about reincarnation. It stirred up a longing to work on my family history again, but subconsciously it stirred up more.

Two days later, just as I woke from a nap, I thought of the first novel I wrote. I finished the first draft fourteen years ago. I revised it, even modified the genre, but I never finished polishing it. Then, after we moved back to California and my life entered a new era, I set it aside.

I didn’t think about that novel much during the next eight years. Then I wrote another novel. And after that one was published, I thought about revising my first novel. I made a half-hearted attempt to convert it to women’s fiction. But ideas for other novels distracted me.

But last week that X-Files episode reminded me that I’d written a dark novel about two reincarnated lovers who find each other again. I opened the file of Forever (working title) and scrolled through, stopping to read several passages.

As I told a friend, the newbie errors made me laugh and some purple prose embarrassed me, but mostly the quality of the writing pleasantly surprised me. So even though I vowed to lighten up this year, I’m now entertaining this dark tale. If I’m happy writing, the result will be the same.

Sometimes looking back leads you forward.

Linda

The Memory Keepers

My mother has dementia. It’s increasing rapidly, now. At first, she suffered only the loss of recent events, which my father kept secret for a while. Not long before he died, he pulled me aside and told me, “Mom forgets a lot.” But it wasn’t until after his death, that I realized how much of her memory loss he’d compensated for.

sandsoftime1In the last year or so, her dementia has progressed to long-term memory loss. Often, she can’t remember what great-grandchildren belong to which grandchild. Or where her grandchildren live. Or what they do for a living. I live across the country from her, so I’m already on the periphery of her life. Someday, I’ll phone and she won’t know who I am.

I’m reluctant to remind her of her youthful escapades she’s relayed many times throughout my life for fear I’ll discover that even those events, grooved most deeply into her memory, are now lost. Sometimes, I think of something I wish I’d asked my father before he died, and now I’ve waited too late to ask my mother many things.

I’ve always had excellent recall of my childhood, which most of the time is a blessing. But I already know I’ve forgotten some things I used to know. That saddens me. Once upon a time, I started a written record of my childhood memories. Too soon, I got distracted. But now it’s imperative that I start again. To record not only memories of my childhood, but memories of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. And all that I know of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives.

There are too many things I don’t want to forget. Eventually, that book of memories may read like fiction to me, but the tales will not be lost. They will remain for those who care to know them. I will be a memory keeper. And I must begin now.

It’s never too late … until it is.

Linda

Forty-six Years Ago

Forty-six years ago tomorrow, I began a new life. It was the Viet Nam era. I was not quite eighteen. And my fiancé was in the U.S. Army. So, like many young couples of that time, we got married. Three weeks later, my brand new husband left me—under military order.

8-31-67
31 August, 1967

We were lucky; they sent him to Germany, not Viet Nam. And I found myself caught between two worlds. I was married, but I had no husband. I was still a teen, but I no longer fit in with my old friends. I still lived with my parents. I had no car—in fact, I’d not yet learned to drive—so I got a job caring for a neighbor’s children while she worked.

I no longer thought about going to art school. I dreamed only of moving to Germany to be with my husband. A few months later, that became reality. In a country nearly 5,000 miles from my hometown, I set up my first household—a two-room apartment on the ground floor, below our German landlord. By the time our first son was born, we’d moved to three rooms on the third floor, above our landlord.

The next year, I moved back to Indiana, just in time to see the first man walk on the moon. My husband returned a couple of months later for a brief leave before being shipped off to Texas. One year later, just after the end of our army days, our second son was born. We increased our family with two more sons in the next six years. We two had become six.

Have all these forty-six years of marriage been blissful? Of course not. We’re human. We’re opposites in many ways; clashes are inevitable. But we also complement each other. And we’re both too stubborn to give up.  We grew into adulthood together. We grew into friendship. We love each other in the true sense of the word. We have what matters most.

Happy anniversary to us!

pkhrt

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Childhood of a Fiction Writer

girlpeekIn my earliest memory, I am lying on my stomach in the kitchen looking through the square holes in a grate. I am eighteen months old. My parents and I live in the upstairs apartment of an old house converted into a duplex. Our kitchen lies above the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Our only heat source is radiant, meaning the heat from downstairs rises into our apartment through open grates in our floor. My mother warns me not to drop anything through the holes, but that was never my intention. The family who lives downstairs is eating dinner, their table is directly below the grate, and I am watching them and listening to their conversation. That’s the extent of that memory, but I now see it as an early indication of my interest in observing people, what they do, what they say, how they act and react.

Yesterday, I followed a link to a video interview with John Irving. In one segment1, he mentioned an early indication he knew he could be a writer: he desired and needed a lot of alone time. Aha!, I thought. Sometimes, when I look back on my childhood, it seems sort of like those Charlie Brown cartoons where adults are unseen, their voices muted. I had parents, two sisters, and a fair amount of friends, but I preferred to spend a lot of time alone with my imagination.

At this point, I can’t say if that choice was strictly my nature or if circumstances enhanced the tendency. Early in my school career, teachers labeled me one of the “smart kids.” That designation sets you apart in ways both good and bad. You may have free time while other students work on a subject that you breezed through. You may also be assigned extra work. In both cases, you’re alone.

childreadingIf you’re a writer, then you are a reader. And I presume, like me, as a child you gobbled up books like candy. I don’t know about you, but reading time was alone time for me. And then, inspired by what I read, I wanted to act out my own stories in the backyard with my baby dolls in my “covered wagon” or behind the living room sofa where I sat up an “apartment” for my Barbies. Alone. Whole conversations carried on in my head.

Of course, I played games with other children, but I preferred make believe to sports or most physical activity. I would try to act out some of my stories with friends, but it was frustrating for us all. I always wanted to be the star and director—“now you say this and then you do that and then I say …” It was just easier to play alone.

sickgirlWhen I got a little older, the ultimate isolator struck—illness. I spent only nine months of my seventh, eighth, and ninth grades actually in school. The rest of that time I was either bedridden, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. Except for three months with a visiting teacher, I taught myself and took tests by phone. Needless to say, I didn’t fare well in the social skills usually developed during this period of life. But I can remember only a few times feeling lonely. And never was I bored. I had my imagination.

In light of all this, do I mind that writing requires me to spend a lot of time alone? Of course not. I think I was cultivated for this life. Only now, I don’t lay on my stomach peeping at the neighbors. I just close my eyes to watch and listen for the story to unfold.

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1 The whole interview is here: http://bigthink.com/johnirving  If you want to hear just the portion I referenced, click the segment titled: How to Tell if You’re a Writer

Originally published 7 Nov, 2009

Alone in our heads

In my earliest memory, I am lying on my stomach in the kitchen looking through the square holes in a grate. I am eighteen months old. My parents and I live in the upstairs apartment of an old house converted into a duplex. Our kitchen lies above the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Our only heat source is radiant, meaning the heat from downstairs rises into our apartment through open grates in our floor. My mother warns me not to drop anything through the holes, but that was never my intention. The family who lives downstairs is eating dinner, their table is directly below the grate, and I am watching them and listening to their conversation. That’s the extent of that memory, but I now see it as an early indication of my interest in observing people, what they do, what they say, how they act and react.

Yesterday, I followed a link to a video interview with John Irving. In one segment1, he mentioned an early indication he knew he could be a writer: he desired and needed a lot of alone time. Aha!, I thought. Sometimes, when I look back on my childhood, it seems sort of like those Charlie Brown cartoons where adults are unseen and their voices are muted. I had parents, two sisters, and a fair amount of friends, but I preferred to spend a lot of time alone with my imagination.

At this point, I can’t say if that choice was strictly my nature or if it had been enhanced by circumstance. I was labeled early in my school career as one of the “smart kids.” That designation sets you apart in ways both good and bad. You may be given free time while other students work on a subject that you breezed through. You may also be assigned extra work. In both cases, you’re alone.

If you’re a writer, then you are a reader. And I presume, like me, as a child you gobbled up books like candy. I don’t know about you, but reading time was alone time for me. And then, inspired by what I read, I wanted to act out my own stories in the backyard with my baby dolls in my “covered wagon” or behind the living room sofa where I sat up an “apartment” for my Barbies. Alone. Whole conversations carried on in my head.

Of course, I played games with other children, but I preferred make believe to sports or most physical activity. I would try to act out some of my stories with friends, but it was frustrating for us all. I always wanted to be the star and director—“now you say this and then you do that and then I say …” It was just easier to play alone.

When I got a little older, the ultimate isolator struck—illness. I spent only nine months of my seventh, eighth, and ninth grades actually in school. The rest of that time I was either bedridden, in the hospital, or recovering from surgery. Except for three months with a visiting teacher, I taught myself and took tests by phone. Needless to say, I didn’t fare well in the social skills usually developed during this period of life. But I can remember only a few times feeling lonely. And never was I bored. I had my imagination.

In light of all this, do I mind that writing requires me to spend a lot of time alone? Of course not. I think I was destined for this life. Only now, I don’t lay on my stomach. I just close my eyes to watch and listen for the story to unfold.

1 The whole interview is here: http://bigthink.com/johnirving  If you want to hear just the portion I referenced, click the segment titled: How to Tell if You’re a Writer

(Previously published on this blog on 7 November 2009.)