Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18th

I have a lasagna to cook and I've already written one blog post today, but I feel the need to write.

It's been kind of rainy all day and this afternoon the wind is blowing and the clouds are moving and reshaping across the sky. Sometimes the sun breaks out and glances through the window and onto the floor, making that spot glow.

There is a large pumpkin on the doorstep and drifts of leaves and the sound of them scraping across the driveways. Every once in a while the blinds rattle with the wind. It's such a quiet afternoon; it's as if the neighborhood is deserted, a suburban ghost town.

I spent the early part of this afternoon crying on the couch. I didn't expect to cry while watching Ken Burn's documentary, The West, but I certainly did.

Sometimes my nationality feels like a heavy burden. I guess nations are like people, in that they sometimes do horrible things to themselves and others, and how they reconcile their past shapes their present.

I was reminded that I live in a particular time and place in history, that I have this gift of being present here and now.

It's easy to feel hampered by the particulars of the present life; particulars tend to be small and ordinary. But I believe it's those particulars that makes us uniquely ourselves- all those small, forgotten moments, those fragments of vision, those memories that are only half recalled now, and maybe only as a particular atmosphere.

No one else, for example, knows the particular loneliness of the back bedroom in my grandparent's house where I went to nap during visits, the quietness and the eerie quality of the packed closet half hidden by the curtain hung over a wire, and the strange smell of the sheets, patterned in orange and yellows.

It's as though there's a stream of memories, sensations and emotions that are all just under the conscious surface, but which are coloring everything present like an underground spring that seeps up and dissipates as it comes. It shapes how we see the world and ourselves, like a lens that bends the light as it comes through.

Maybe this perception is the natural result of having repressed memories. Maybe it's part of being a writer, this idea that observation and personal perception are valuable in their uniqueness, that the way we tell our stories matters just as much or more as the stories themselves.

Even as a child, I was fascinated by the way people and places changed depending on the angle and treasured certain memories that were so old that they had lost their framework, they free floated, they were suspended in time and space.

I would go for long walks and eagerly wait for the moment when returning, the place I lived became  strange and new again. It happened each time, provided I walked far enough away to make returning a novelty.

There is a memory I have of a city at night, and a street and concrete steps and a sidewalk. I am there and maybe two of my brothers and my mother and father. One brother has fallen down and hurt himself, but he is also clinging to my mother's hand and grasping the iron handrail and also we are walking down the hill in the night.

Is it a memory or a dream? There is this sense of being stranded somewhere in an island of concrete, with all the pinpricks of lights glowing all around us, beautiful but foreign and unwelcoming.

I've held on to this memory for so long that I've forgotten why it mattered. It's like one piece of a kaleidoscope of images, bright and broken. It's the one piece of an iceberg that's lifted above the opaque and moving surface while the dangerous bulk of it goes gliding by unseen in the dark, submerged by its own weight.

Each time my family returned to the church center where we lived, I would invoke my earliest memory of such a journey. Like a private rite, I would remember the way the green of the golf course swooped down from the red and white house on the hill in a long, nearly endless expanse until the road tipped up again and onto the back drive of the church.

How long it seemed then, how beautiful, how mysterious, I would tell myself. How short it seems now, and the pavement broken, everything smaller but richer in meaning, layered over with memories so thick it was as if I waded through them.

Then we traveled to be here, I would tell myself. Now I live here. It is my own private landscape and others must journey to it. It's a privilege, I would remind myself. Remember it.

And I do, on this afternoon in October. The sky has cleared just in time to send the late afternoon light slanting across the yellowing grass and the garbage truck roars up the road, disturbing the peace. I have a lasagna to make and later, a Louis L'Amour paperback to read in bed.

We each inhabit own our private landscape, one made up of small, particular moments, the past reaching up to enrich and deepen the present. It's a privilege, this life. It's good to remember it here and now.