Thursday, March 20, 2014

"the sun is moving outside"

Memory: this is from the scanned slides of my youth. I can see clearly that I am driving the tractor, and my father is assisting Susan and John (the two siblings closest to my age) in stacking the bales on the trailer. The setting is clearly our long rectangular hayfield at The Farm. This place, I do remember, is where I learned the word Timothy, the name of a good grass for hay. I remember my father teaching me this word, and showing me the characteristic seedhead.
What I do not remember: Driving a tractor. Being able to drive a tractor. (I didn't learn to drive a car until I was 26 years old!) Who cut this hay? What equipment did they use. Is this a borrowed tractor? I do remember that plaid shirt I am wearing. Wow! I drove a tractor!

About memory. Today, I have been reading Under My Skin, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography. I cannot believe I missed this before, because I love autobiographies, especially of writers. I carried the book with me when we went to the neurologist today, and laid it on the floor in the examining room by my purse. As we left, Dr. G. looked down, "Doris Lessing," he said, "she didn't like men." So far in this book, that hasn't come up, but I seem to remember that that was at least part of things, as far as her life was concerned. Here is one taste:

Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman, with a more and more detached curiosity. Old people may be observed peering into their pasts. Why? -- They are asking themselves. How did that happen? I try to see my past selves as someone else might, and then put myself back inside one of them, and am at once submerged in a hot struggle of emotion, justified by thoughts and ideas that I now judge wrong.
     Besides, the landscape itself is a tricky thing. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, month, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you don't?
     Suppose there is no landscape at all? This can happen. I sat next to a man at dinner who said he could never write an autobiography because he didn't remember anything. What, nothing? Only a little scene here and there. Like, so he said, those small washes and blobs of colour that stained-glass windows lay on the dark of a stone floor in a cathedral. It is hard for me to imagine such a darkening of the past. Once even to try would have plunged me into frightful insecurity, as if memory were Self, Identity -- and I am sure that isn't so. Now I can imagine myself arriving in some country with the past wiped clean out of my mind. I would do all right. It is after all only what we did when we were born, without memories, or so it seems to the adult: then we have to create our lives, create memory.
     Besides, said this dinner companion -- who seemed perfectly whole and present, despite his insufficient hold on his past, 'the little blobs of colour move all the time, because the sun is moving outside.'

Doris Lessing, Under My Skin, volume one of my autobiography, to 1949, Harper Perennial, 1995, pages 12-13.

As soon as I read this passage this morning, I knew it had to become part of The Memory Thread. So I riffled through the slides to find something to use (usually this works the other way around and I start with the picture.) What did you remember today???

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