Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Shape of Memory and Experience

When asked earlier today what I remembered about a trip to Canada that my family had taken when I was a child, it was surprising to the person asking me that I couldn't remember the order of hotels and the specific order of the travels, which seems to me something that I would have had no control over and therefore no proper awareness of (other than we stopped here, we stopped there)--I have an episodic memory of arriving at hotels, of embarrassing meals and disappointing Northern swimming pools, the giant ground wasp in North Carolina, and the feeling of ennui upon climbing out of the van at another grassy battlefield filled with wall-sized posters of historical battlefield minutia.

The pool in Pennsylvania became the basis for a short story that I'm still struggling with--the story is a bifurcated narrative of what travel was like and what it meant to live anonymously on a vacation with my head in a book, daydreaming or reading. What it meant to confront the fear that accompanies the unforeseen exhaustion of one's parents and the weird embarrassments adults visit on their offspring.

Niagara, in contrast, was all sun and thunder and food and castles. I don't remember the maps, though...or the specific hotels (although I remember the false fire alarms and the unfamiliar formality). I remember the son of the friend of the family who made some kind of living off making fake musket balls for tourists.

It wasn't, in other words, a continuous trip for me, the way they are now. Now, I drive and plan and am aware of the shape of the road and the links between places. Perhaps this is a good analogy for some of the challenges that I have with fiction--I perceive it in episodes rather than in coherent journeys. Nonlinear.

For whatever reason, this is a good reminder to stop sitting around pretending to work and to actually get down to work, before another narrative dissolves into a piecemeal memory of that story that I was going to write.

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