Couple of weeks ago, I wrote about finding a memory that seems to have sown the seeds of depression in me. Finding out that I was so much more advanced than other children my age made me feel like a freak.
In an even earlier memory about reading, I had a much different reaction to being ahead of my class.
It was early in kindergarten, within the first week or so, I guess. The teacher separated us into two groups. That part is hazy. What I remember clearly happened after we were dismissed for the day.
As we filed out, one of the other children taunted us in the “non-selected” group. “You don’t get to learn to read, but we do.” His tone was provocative, sneering. He was trying to mark himself and his group as better than we who had been coloring or playing with trucks or whatever the heck we were doing.
I wouldn’t have it. “I already know how to read,” I said. It baffled me that he couldn’t. I was happy about knowing how to read. I felt superior. What changed so that three years later, I would be embarrassed by my skill?
Last December, I was in New York City for a night, so I arranged to meet my friend Don for drinks. He teaches in Connecticut but is often in the city. We shared an office when I was in graduate school and have maintained the friendship for almost a quarter of a century.
He asked about the novel I’m working on, role-playing a busy publisher whom I had to hook. I said I was writing the best prose of my life. He asked what had made that possible. “I guess I needed to care about what I was doing,” I joked.
“But you’ve always cared,” he said. “Don’t you remember how much you wrestled with ‘Charlie’s Heart?’”
“Charlie’s Heart” was a story I wrote in graduate school about a young boy who discovers that he has literally lost his heart. (I was experimenting with magical realism at the time.) It took me months to finish, because I was determined to tell not merely a “good” story, but one that was honest, as well. Don read multiple drafts and helped me see it through when I despaired of finishing it.
That reminder was such a precious gift. Sometimes I doubt myself when I write. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be happier doing something else. Sometimes I feel as though I have made no progress as a writer. Don reminded me of who I am and who I have always been.
WordPress informs me that I am on a sixteen-day streak of blogging. I almost didn’t write anything yesterday. I didn’t sleep well the night before and working in the sun that afternoon drained what energy I had left. I didn’t like the cards I was pulling from the Hemingway Deck. They all required more depth of thought than I was capable of. I didn’t want to skip a day, though. I felt that if I did, it would be even easier to skip the next, and so on. What I wrote was inconsequential. The important thing was that I wrote.
I want to keep this streak going as long as I can, but I’m becoming bored with random subjects. I want to pick up a thread and follow it for a while. This week, I’m going to experiment with writing about childhood memories, both good and bad. I already wrote about my earliest memory as part of “Freak,” so I won’t cover the memory itself again. I’m interested in how I know that it really is my memory, and not a story someone told me and that I internalized.
I have some pseudo-memories from when I was younger than my first true memory. For example, when I was between two and three, we went to my mother’s best friend’s wedding. I was a gregarious child and liked to greet everyone I knew and shake hands. (Everyone joked that I would grow up to be a politician.) Concerned that I might disrupt the ceremony, my mother cautioned me not to call out to anyone while we were in the church. She went through a list of all the people I would see. She missed one, though, so when he appeared, I stood up on the pew and shouted, “Hi, Joe!” (Five decades later, I have no idea who Joe was.)
I remember that incident, but I know it’s not my memory. My mother told me that story several times. I have other pseudo-memories like that. In each one, the viewpoint is outside myself, seeing myself in action.
In the memory of my mother telling me about our new neighbors, I can’t see myself. I see my mother, sitting on my bed. The memory is coming from inside my brain.