We don’t believe because we don’t recall

“Voluntary memory, the memory of the intellect and the eyes, [gives] us only imprecise facsimiles of the past which no more resemble it than pictures by bad painters resemble the spring…. So we don’t believe that life is beautiful because we don’t recall it, but if we get a whiff of a long-forgotten smell we are suddenly intoxicated, and similarly we think we no longer love the dead, because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.” –MP

Bike ride

Bike ride

Voluntary memory: this is where I have spent a lot of my time, purposively thinking, under an illusion that I can drive my thoughts like horses.  I remember trying to write stories this way in college.  Running around the LSU lakes and thinking thinking in order to create a story and move it forward.  Which is a strategy that works for creating the structure of a story, raising its bones, but not for reifying the beauty that the bones contain.

When I was in high school I wrote thoughts on little scraps of paper that I’d find later in my car or my purse.  I wrote a sentence once about waking up with ink on my sheets from writing all these little things down, sleeping with my head where my feet should have been.  Which says a lot about how I was at the time.  Thusly, most of the things I wrote ended up being these little lights of thought, strung together.  It worked out alright.



Voluntary memory is me looking at pictures, looking for the feeling I need and looking for something specific.  But the specific, needed thing is always the meeting of so many tiny stitches and patches that you can’t ever precisely recreate–and you know that.  Still, if you get only a few of those pieces back together, or truly, if they come to you, involuntarily, you get something imperfect, blotchy, but clear enough to be important.  And that’s where I don’t ever want to ask too many questions.  I don’t want to ask questions like: “Whence [does] it come? What [does] it signify? How [can] I seize upon and define it?”  Because the questioning is where it starts to fall apart again.

In my youth, I spent a lot of time in a very physical space, and by that I mean that I felt my best a lot of the time doing something to resist my logical, analytical side, like riding my bike, running around town at dusk followed by riding my bike, tearing down the soccer field like a half-lunatic, singing on-stage.  That athletic catharsis is a place where I’m really okay, but it’s also a place very much on the edge of something.  It’s a place where I can pour my feelings in translation, but a place that can never hold them all.  So I get to the very edge of it, where I’m running, running, into something like midnight, but I can’t run fast enough to accomplish the real thing I want to accomplish, so I just stay there, in that tense but beautiful place (er, running into midnight) which holds (almost) all the feelings.  Now that I run less, it’s like this when I’m mid-lunge, lactic acid flowing, and swimming; especially swimming, since it’s an activity which encourages twin pillars of calm and strength.

But the real point of all of this is the involuntary memory.  For me, a stronger version of that phrase would be a “trigger,” i.e., a thing that explodes when it greets the air.

Abita Springs

Abita Springs

Before dad died, I spent a lot of time in Zanzibar mid-panic, but in a still functional, hidden way.  I did a lot of really normal-seeming things.  I only slept poorly, had nightmares, did illogical things like google dad’s obits, as if he had already died.  A friend messaged me on Skype one evening to tell me she’d had a nightmare about me and dad the night before; she’d wanted to make sure I was okay. I didn’t ask what it was about since I knew knowing would have only impeded my functionality.

I listened to “The Ship Song” a lot.  The version I listened to was a cover by Lissie that’s even more dreamlike than the original.  It takes a lot of the reality out of the original, and when I hear it now, I really think of and borderline-feel the horrible calm that was Zanzibar before dad’s death.

The path that led me to “The Ship Song” today isn’t that convoluted, but the real point is that I ended up listening to it a lot, the original real/dreamy Nick Cave version and the dreamy/dreamy Lissie version.  (I only wish the Martha Wainwright version were better.)

And listening to it steered me to that place of horror and sadness and longing.  That trifecta is not one you can really lean into or settle into when you’re in public because it’s a feeling that can make you cry, triply-bad.  It’s a feeling that can make you wail and rattle the closest things nailed to a wall or attached to a floor.

When this feeling suddenly happens–because it’s “happened” before–I wonder, well, how I am functioning.  And it goes back to that passage I initially quoted.  A lot of the time I feel like I’m living as if dad never even existed because that’s the only way to tolerate the loss.

Logically, I know he existed, but emotionally, I can’t totally grapple with it.

But when I’m in the other place, the triggered place, and I start to sift through the old e-mails, even the mechanical ones, I can feel broken upon reading things like: “Yes, call AAA.  It may be covered as part of our membership.  You have your card.” These e-mails almost always end with: “Let’s talk tonight.  I love you.”

Louisiana being pretty

Louisiana being pretty

After I got the news that dad died, a few things happened.  I made a movement or two in my bed and, almost efficiently, wailed, “No!” knowing that the wail signified: “Something has broken.”  Then I called Rebecca to tell her I wasn’t coming to class.  Then I called Julie to tell her what had happened.  Then Julie came over, even though I’d said, “No, it’s okay, you don’t have to come.”  But obviously, it was perfect that she came, since I was moving through things more slowly than I ever had and would, before and after those moments.  Mwalimu Omar had followed Julie in shock to my host parents’ house, so at a certain point, there was basically a party in my room, with Mwalimu Omar insisting we all continue to speak and grieve in Swahili.  Julie and I laughed at his earnestness.  Then Julie and I walked and had lunch and that’s when I started having the “moments.”  In the moments, I’d think something about dad, and want to say it, but feel unable to without breaking and crying.  Yet, now, I can say these things with great detachment; there isn’t any crying about them because maybe you only cross that bridge of horror once or twice.

The thing I really wanted to do, though, after I got the news about dad, was to go to my pool and swim.  I swam at a pool at a hotel called Mtoni Marine, a bit outside of town, and though I usually took the daladala, Julie and I took a taxi, joking about how we were going to get kidnapped for being lackluster in our security-related decisions (though we weren’t really; we’d taken all the normal “precautions”).

This was when I was still swimming arms-only because of back/hip pain, and I swam pretty furiously that afternoon, did my normal 1800 or so, took my time.  And I continued having the “moments” in the water, where I felt like I was both literally and, uh, metaphorically drowning.  Feeling waves of total panic which, when translated, read: “Oh, hey, you’re never going to see dad again. Oh. Hey. Oh.”

All of this means that some weird things happen when I swim now.  Involuntarily I’ll cry out, “Daddy!” mid-lap.  It comes out in a small, literal voice or a whispered wail in my head.  Like a child, but I can’t even laugh about it.  Because that’s the feeling; that’s the wailing that is still strangely making its way out of my mouth.

This involuntary remembering explains a lot about my dreams since dad makes it into them so often.  It seems like that’s the only way I can tolerate thinking about him, or the only way I can think about him in a way that feels whole and respectful of the memory and true.  (Not real, but true.)

I dream about Kayla this way too.  I won’t think about her for ages, and then suddenly she’s there, in the dream, and it’s the truest thing that’s ever “happened.”  And I have memories of these dreams now that feel like part of the story of my real memories with her.  Nothing really important needs to happen in these dreams, since the action is the part where you see the person, and are seen by them. You sit together or stand together; you’re just together again, and that’s literally the only thing that matters.

It says a lot that dad’s favorite book was Brideshead Revisited.  The commentary about all of this is obvious and initial and strong: “My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing certainly except the past—were always with me. Like the pigeons of St. Mark’s, they were everywhere, under my feet, singly, in pairs, in little honey-voiced congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder or pecking a broken biscuit from between my lips; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed and in a moment, with a flutter and sweep of wings, the pavement was bare and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl. Thus it was that morning.”

Dad's gazebo

Dad’s gazebo

Dad spent a lot of time in this space of voluntary remembering.  He visited his old homes and schools and dorms and walked around in the rubble of them or stood out in the street looking at the numbers his dad had fastened to the facade of the house.  After his mother died, he went with Uncle Charlie to find a lot of people from her past, to these old Louisiana places.

Uncle Charlie

Uncle Charlie

I’ve been thinking about how I literally can’t do that sometimes.  I can’t go back to my grandmother and Papa Bill’s acadian house because it’s no longer theirs.  I can pass by it and around it and linger in the memories which are the grass racing around its perimeter and the knowledge of the garden that lies out back, the garden that I thought of for some reason when I first saw Wild Strawberries.

So since I can’t do the literal visiting, I have to do something else, and based on today, and today’s feeling more than today’s thinking, it seems like that something is waiting.  I have to wait?  That sounds awful.  But it also seems true.  I sit here, and I do the things that put me in the place where I am most myself–in that athletic or artistic catharsis or calm.  Either is pleasure.

I’m not totally sure what I’m left with after today, but I at least know that I can read the following sentences and feel surprisingly heartbroken: “Yes, call AAA.  It may be covered as part of our membership.  You have your card.”



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Memorabilia, mementos, symbols, emblems, constellations

I once told my friend Tyler that I usually tried to wear something, like a piece of jewelry, most likely, or clothing, that reminded me of myself, whenever I had something arduous/daunting to do, typically a first day of work. I end up assigning a lot of power to these memorabilia. And it seems to run in the family. My grandmother once gave me a pendant that she told me had her childhood teeth marks in it. And I know there were other important things about this pendant, but that was the most important thing that stuck with me because it seemed important to her too.

My dad started wearing a necklace that came from somewhere important, I think after his mother, my grandmother, died, which he referred to as his “bling.” He passed along these miscellaneous boxes of trinkets around that time, that I couldn’t and can’t remember the specific importance of, but felt the overall weight of; he filtered through them once while visiting me in Denver, asking my permission to take a specific emblem.

A necklace was also left in my childhood room once, a pretty bird siting on a gnarled branch, that was bought in either Lafayette or Spain. The certainty behind it is that it was bought by my dad for his mom.


Then there’s the necklace I bought when dad visited me to help me move from Greeley to Denver, May 2011. It’s two glossed-over, preserved, Colorado autumn leaves, and as soon as he bought it for me (my choice), he put it on, and the jeweler watched. You could have called it a “father-daughter moment.” You could have called it poignant.

My maternal grandmother (you know who you are!) bought me jewelry in a certain way for some time; her way was to say, “it reminded me of you!” and smile deeply, after I’d opened the gift. Which felt so special and serene to me.

This feeling, though, of attaching such importance to things–it says something about us, me and dad and dad’s mom. It says how weighted down and earth-bound we are. You have to have little mottos to help you get through that kind of life, things like dad used to say to ease the pain of getting a driving ticket or losing $10 through a proverbial pocket hole: “It’s the cost of living.” I.e., shit happens, and as much as we love our symbols–these stars that connect us from one place and one time to another–certainly there is something bigger and more beyond.

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“Is it possible really to love other people? If I’m lonely and in pain, everyone outside me is potential relief – I need them. But can you really love what you need so badly? Isn’t a big part of love caring more about what the other person needs? How am I supposed to subordinate my own overwhelming need to somebody else’s needs that I can’t even feel directly? And yet if I can’t do this, I’m damned to loneliness, which I definitely don’t want… so I’m back at trying to overcome my selfishness for self-interested reasons. Is there any way out of this bind?”

Thanks for always asking these things, DFW.

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(i.e., trying to encourage myself to write/complete things I’ve begun)

The thing about anniversaries is that they can never happen perfectly, as people wish, but instead reflect these eyelashes or arm hairs of movement in time that aren’t spherical, that never reliably lead you back to where you were a year or two ago. In a way I find it comforting, but at the same time haunting, since it eludes any control over feeling sadness in any one particular moment, when the bad thing happened, or the good thing, or the exciting thing.

There is the anniversary of you first loving me, or when I was born. It’s not that I’m really all that selfish or all that into myself, but that might be my favorite anniversary since it’s on that day that I get to think about you loving me by taking me to all of your favorite places from birth, counting cars, removing paper wrapping from straws by pressing them into diner counters. This is the one time that I’m grateful for this non-spherical nature of years, because the anniversary of you loving me bleeds into the day before and the day after the calendrically marked actual day, like ink bleeding deep into the seat of a brand new car, trickling even like bright ink into water, through the river of the other days of the year. It trickles even into the day of you dying, blotting that day out like blue ink blotting out a moth smudged passingly on paper.

There is the anniversary of the day you decided to ride a horse. My grandmother saying, “Charlie!” She wasn’t your mother, but she was still terrified. She said something about how musicians shouldn’t ride horses. You were getting really ambitious on that horse though, and it was hilarious and lovely to see your happiness played out in a sound other than music, in an act other than art.

There’s the anniversary of walking around the campus. These anniversaries were always composed of simple acts—you saying, let’s go see your old apartment. Since in years before we’d gone to see your old dormitory which had become the modern languages building, though you could still point out your room, which we walked into once when the building was being remodeled. You were happy, standing there in the rubble, and most of the time now, these days, that’s how I picture you, slipping through these keyholes of memory, trying to reveal them to me, sometimes getting stuck, sometimes passing through.

I wrote this the other day: one problem is that when I use percent change as the dependent variable, my results are pretty shoddy. Thinking to myself: one true thing is that, amidst all of this change, you’re the one who kept all the memories, and I’m the one who received them. As if only you could put meaning to our timelines, the early years, the difficult years. I was always there, waiting to know it, and waiting to hear it from you. So that now, sitting here, I feel possessionless, my hands like watchtowers with no men watching, no people even to watch over. -3/29/2014

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“When God is a child”

I’m not totally sure what I want to say today, just that I want to say something, or that it’s important to say something.  It’s like this:

“I woke up this morning with that itchy feeling I get when I’ve gone too long without writing. I have a writer friend who once told me that she didn’t feel right if she wasn’t writing regularly, that she woke up each morning needing to write, and until very recently, I didn’t really believe her, because it never felt that straightforward to me. … I never felt that kind of imperative to be a writer – or, really, to be anything in particular. Writing sneaked up on me. But now that I’ve been at it for a while, I sometimes get a sense, just the faintest nudge of a sense, of what my friend might have meant. I’m best when I’m writing, even if I sit down at my desk without a thing to say, with only that itch to go on.” –Molly Wizenberg, orangette.blogspot.com

That’s where I am today, and most days.  For me, a lot of the time, I feel like I’m picking through rubble, trying to get at the most important things, blue stones.  To echo B.Wainana–“for me writing is all about creating larger circles of chaos, and rebuilding new, lucid structures from the possibilities the debris brings.”

Yeah, that.

So, this memory has rolled around in my head for a while:

When I was young, maybe 9, at my grandmother’s house in Lafayette, I saw an episode of Doug that totally freaked me out and kept me from sleeping on my stomach for at least a year.  In the episode, as far as I can remember, a villain/doctor sneaks into Doug’s room at night and STICKS A NEEDLE IN HIS HEAD OKAY.  Geez, why were kids’ shows so scary?  Anyway, it was bad news; this was also at the beginning of a period of fairly intense anxiety for me that lasted for about a year.  Thanks, Doug.

After seeing this episode, I walked into my grandmother’s living room, expansive and acadian.  You had to step down to get to the living room, which made it feel important to me.  My grandmother was there, practicing on the grand piano, wearing her reading glasses and probably something fairly ostentatious.  (We used to play dress-up in her regular clothes, because they were so fanciful and cool.)  Anyway, my dad’s mother was both elegant and absent-minded–but she seemed grounded to me at times, at least in the way she was able to comfort a child, or at least me.

So I remember totally freaking out about this episode and telling my grandmother and my grandmother finding this song to play for me, called something like “When God is a Child.”  Isn’t that perfect?  It was totally soothing, sitting next to her, as she played this song that she chose intentionally to calm my meltdown.

And I think about that moment and song from time to time, which is probably what she intended.

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Sugary candy and Frank Zappa

Sometimes I find myself doing things I didn’t necessarily realize I liked–small, silly things, like eating sugary candy or having Frank Zappa quotes rolling around in my head.  And I know it could sound very presumptuous, or I don’t know what it sounds like, but I have the feeling or idea that I’m sometimes doing the things now that my dad didn’t get to do.  And those things are both small, like eating gummy bears, listening to “The Planets,” putting on chapstick, and large, like walking across England, making faces at babies in the grocery store, being a grandparent, and telling certain people I love them.  It’s haunting but the kind of haunting that carries you along.

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Saundra once suggested I give up chocolate, and I immediately put my foot down

I read an article the other day about two roommates who “went a year without buying anything,” which is a) a little unclear since they obviously still bought some things, but was b) overall interesting and compelling.

So I thought, okay, let me try this for, um, a week, but first I need to buy the following:

1) A lunchbox
2) New swim goggles since I lost my “good pair” at the Y
3) New headphones since I lost mine on metro
4) A pair of shoes I just bought in size 9.5 since the 9’s were too small
5) Chanticleer’s Our American Journey album
6) On Itunes: First Aid Kit’s new album; more Chanticleer

Not to mention a beautiful watch, sleeveless shirts for summer/now, a cardigan since the two I brought with me to DC are turqoise/green / not very matchy-matchy. And new glasses.  Omg.

I get a lot of pleasure out of online shopping, even if I don’t end up buying things, probably just to figure out what “my style” is or whatever.  But I can also waste a lot of time that way, and it’s funny how, when I’ve been abroad, with only some of my belongings and clothes, it’s an activity that doesn’t really even occur to me.  But when I’ve come back to the U.S., I’ve wanted to instantly start buying things again–it’s like an “essential” part of re-entry.

True, I’m in a place right now where I could benefit from saving money and where saving money is also difficult.  So the idea of being more intentional and disciplined and slightly public about it is appealing, not to mention digging more into that tension that is my wanting material goods so much more when I’m in America than when I’m elsewhere.  And feeling like I actually need them.

The idea of asking myself to do things is also appealing since I seem to be better in some ways when I am intentional, but there are just so many things to be potentially intentional about.  Saundra once suggested I give up chocolate (for…4o days?), and I put my foot down immediately to that.  But giving up…spending/social media/internet on weekends???  It could be possible.  And the idea that it would be difficult is cute, almost, but I know it really would.  And then I have to ask myself why.

Saundra--beware: she'll suggest you give up chocolate

Saundra–beware: she’ll suggest you give up chocolate



So, things that I can realistically give up are: eating out (ok, maybe, or at least limiting to 1-2x/month?); buying new clothes (the main problem being that most of my summer/spring clothes are in MS but like…we’ll figure it out); buying books ’cause, “the library”; ummmm, buying random beauty products since I have a lot of samples to get through; and…ideas?  Let’s see what happens for two weeks of this, and then I’ll re-evaluate.

This might seem very childish, but I’m really a weak budgeter.  One problem being that I like having a gadget for each particular thing–a certain tupperware container for salad dressing, the perfect thermos for my coffee, a brush with which to clean the thermos, instead of making do with what is already there.  So I’d appreciate any suggestions!  And any allies in my quest to spend less.

There’s also an appeal to me in generally decluttering/organizing.  My computer needs it since it’s kind of chugging along at this point; my brain needs it.  You know this when you start spelling “foot” “fut,” and the like.  I can’t tell if social media just exacerbates this–i.e., by providing a receptacle, or a…requilary, for the “too much” stewing in my brain, it activates the “too much,” thereby creating more activity and more mess.  And that relates to the idea that buying less would be decluttering since you’re not totally in tune with what you could potentially buy.

I think the ultimate goal is to think a little bit…better.  To write longer passages and push past the walls a bit more, especially writing short stories, so that I have to put my thoughts into metaphor, which expresses their multiple dimensions and gives them life.  In fact, this post feels a little messy and cluttered and lazy, but maybe it’s just from the digging into the mess/ambiguity a bit more.  Let’s say that’s the reason.

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