Friday, November 28, 2008

Memories And Such

I am, when not knitting away on my pretty pink socks or my bright orange scarf, reading a fascinating sort of book. It’s The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor. It’s about James Purdew, a young man who, after breaking up with his Dutch girlfriend, returns to England to figure out what happened during three years that seem to have vanished from his memory. He returns to the town where he spent those years and begins investigating, uncovering clues to his own mystery and to a nineteenth century mystery that may, somehow, be connected to him. There is a lot here about memory and history, fiction and reality, dreams and real life.

And perhaps it’s sophomoric of me, but I keep finding bits that really seem to resonate with me, that I have to stop and mull over. Last night I read this section – James is wandering in the neighborhood where he grew up and comes across his junior school, where he spent “half his life between the ages of four and ten.” He wanders about and looks through some windows, and thinks:

“And yet…how small everything looked. Could this tiny building really be the repository for such fathoms of wonder and fear? Of course, James told himself, it looks small because you’ve grown. Once upon a time you sat in little plastic chairs like those, you stared longingly out of the window at this minuscule foot-ball pitch and thought how grand and green and magical it seemed. But could that really have been me? he wondered. Somehow the disparity in scale made him question what he had always taken for granted. Could he truly once have been a child?”

And this made me stop and think about elementary school…and how, when I look back, and remember things…Linda Hoerl’s incredible toy horse, standing in front of the class giving book reports, playing with Quisinaire cubes, watching Bobby Chisum draw pitched Army battle, complete with sound effects…I think of all those things as an adult and I think that surely I was then just like me now. But I don’t actually remember my viewpoint…I don’t truly remember the feeling of being the young me. What I remember is the intrinsic me, unchanged from the way I am now. I’ve always just felt like me… Is it really possible to remember your young self? Aren’t your memories irredeemably colored by the way you are now?

Later in his walk, he thinks about his childhood friends:

“He thought of all the people he had known here with whom he was no longer in touch, their faces moving past in a floating identity parade. And then he tried to imagine what he had always taken for granted: that these people were alive, somewhere in this world, at this instant. That, if they looked up now, as he was doing, they would see that same moon, those same clouds and stars. […] He thought about the idea that these people were alive, not only now, when he was thinking about them, but all the time. At every instant. Doing something, thinking something, seeing, feeling, experiencing a life utterly estranged from his. He tried to imagine how he seemed to these other people. Did he ever cross their minds the way they were crossing his now? Was he anything more to him than a momentarily recalled image, as unidentifiable twinge somewhere in the stomach or chest…He thought of ringing them up or writing to them, if only to ensure that he could, for that instant, exist again in their self-contained universe, pass across the sky of their mind.”
I loved this passage. I do that…think of the kids I went to school with and try to imagine where they are and what they are doing. Though really they are all going to continue to exist, in their child-states, never growing up, in my mind. And maybe somewhere Marius Masumas occasionally has a ten-year-old me in his mind. (I had quite a crush on Marius, who seemed incredibly smart and was cute, too. I’d be thrilled to think that he remembered me at all.)

And, tangentially related, do you ever watch a stranger do something and try to project yourself into their mind? Watch someone on a bus and try to feel that you are that person…feel how tired they are, or how bored? I do that a lot.

Anyway, the book is interesting but it’s going slowly because I keep stopping to think about all this stuff.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence that you wrote this now. This post really resonates with me, since I've just returned to Pennsylvania from a four-day visit with my parents, who still live in the town where I grew up in southern Illinois. I get back there only about once a year, and I always feel a strange nostalgia. I didn't maintain friendships with many people from high school (and those with whom I did also moved out of the area), so "going home" doesn't mean catching up with old friends for me. But I do look around at the places I used to know so well, and now I see them through very different eyes. It's hard to imagine/remember quite what it was like to be a child there.
I also wonder about the people from my past--where they went, what they're doing now. Over the last several months, I've been "friended" on Facebook that people I went to high school with and either didn't keep in touch with or didn't even know then (my graduating class had nearly 600 people in it). It's strange to catch these little glimpses in their lives, via one-line status updates and occasional photos on Facebook. Amazing what the Internet lets us accomplish in terms of social interaction, isn't it?