Someone Else’s Memories

A few minutes ago, dressed only in a t-shirt, gym shorts, and rubber flip-flops, I scurried outside with my camera, in forty degree temperatures, to take a picture of the Super Moon. My attempt to capture an historical event was unsuccessful; an uncomfortable endeavor. Trees blocked much of the view, incompetence with the intricacies of a mid-range camera assured my effort’s failure, and the chill in the air made the effort spectacularly uncomfortable. But my eyes, unaided by technology, marveled at what I saw. Despite the fact that the spectacle’s zenith won’t occur for two hours, I was impressed. Last night, when the moon was high in the sky, I viewed it through binoculars; an absolutely stunning experience.  But that’s not what’s top of mind this morning, is it? No. Reading and writing take that spot, as always.

I’ve just finished reading a memoir written by Michael Mewshaw, who taught the only creative writing class I’ve ever taken. Mewshaw, only ten years older than I, taught the class while I attended the University of Texas. I don’t remember which year; I suspect it was 1974, but it could have been any time between June 1972, when I enrolled, and December 1975, when I graduated. Mewshaw’s memoir, If You Could See Me Now, is a riveting read. In it, he delves into a youthful love affair with a pregnant woman and, years later, the aftermath when a thirty-year-old adopted woman searching for her birth parents comes calling. His experiences, though utterly different from my own, gave me reason to remember my past. The pain he felt, early on and years later in confronting memories, struck a chord with me.

Reading the book brought back vague memories of reading two of his early novels, Walking Slow and Man in Motion. The memoir clearly illustrated that his life served as fodder for his earlier work; read Man in Motion and If You Could See Me Now and you will be dumbstruck by the parallels. Those vague memories—coupled with what I now realize were real experiences that contributed to his fiction—unearthed some recollections of my own that might prove worthy subjects for my writing. Another writer—a woman who spoke during a few events I attended more recently, asserted that writers must “write through the pain” and must “tell the story, regardless of how much, or who, it hurts”—suggested we cannot let fear silence our stories. I’m not there yet. I cannot unleash unreliable memories on people who don’t deserve them; at least, not in nonfiction. But I suppose I’ve been doing exactly that in my fiction for a long time. I’ve been intermingling memories with creative imagination for years. Reading Mewshaw’s memoir, after having read some of his fiction, revealed to me I’m not alone in that stew.

I’ve muddled with this post for the better part of an hour. Three paragraphs an hour; that’s writing slow. Maybe another foray into the cold morning air to look at the Super Moon is in order. Another cup of hot, black coffee most certainly is.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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