Category Archives: memories

Speaking about death

There was a time I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane nor the funeral.

Claudia Rankine,  Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

(from here) 


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Keeping a secret

[ The writer was raped  when she was twelve by a pack of boys, one of whom she loved. She  told no-one.  She  began eating and eating.]

Even as I became more and more withdrawn, my family remained strong, connected in these intimate, indelible ways. I have no doubt that my parents noticed the change in me. They would continue to notice, to worry over me, for the next twenty years and longer. But they didn’t know how to talk to me and I didn’t let them in. When they tried, I deflected, refusing to take the lifelines they offered me. The longer I kept my secret, the more attached I became to keeping my truth to myself, the more I nurtured my silence.

Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body        

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Memoir as the quest to understand

“To write a memoir”, [Richard] Ford claims, “and to consider the importance of another human being is to try to credit what might otherwise go unremarked”. In pondering this, however, Ford is brought up against his own “incomplete understanding”. While Between Them was undertaken in order to “remedy my longing by imagining them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a speculative mode, with provisional portraits evoked by missing details:

“And how was it for him? Driving, driving alone? Sitting in those hotel rooms, in lobbies, reading a strange newspaper in the poor lamplight … smoking?”

Oftentimes, Ford develops the scene in the negative:

“I don’t remember the time of year of his heart attack … I don’t remember it being cold or hot.”

As a consequence, what is most moving is less the story told than the nature of the inquiry: the long view taken by a son trying to imagine what his parents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like before him, and what they have become in memory.


Stephanie Bishop reviewing ‘Between Them’ by Richard Ford, a memoir of his parents. The Monthly June 2017 (from here) 

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A universal truth to be reckoned with

[There is] a truth that sits beneath the surface of the twin, universal facts of our beginnings and endings: the unequivocal triad of mother-father-self. Whether that triad is sturdy or broken, bonded by biology, affection or both, it’s one that most of us must reckon with, in some shifting fashion, all of our lives.

Cheryl Strayed on Richard Ford’s Masterly Memoir of His Parents May 1, 2017 The New York Times (from here) 

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A museum of mobile and grimacing images

In the first 11 years of his life, his family had been caught up with the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian-Polish war. As Milosz wrote,

“When I reached adolescence, I carried inside me a museum of mobile and grimacing images.”

Sudipta Datta  reviewing  Milosz: A Biography by  Andrzej Franaszek, Edited and translated by Aleksandra and Michael Parker,

(from here) 

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Looking at a photo

           A Summer Garden BY LOUISE GLÜCK

Several weeks ago I discovered a photograph of my mother

sitting in the sun, her face flushed as with achievement or triumph.

The sun was shining. The dogs

were sleeping at her feet where time was also sleeping,

calm and unmoving as in all photographs.

I wiped the dust from my mother’s face.

Indeed, dust covered everything; it seemed to me the persistent

haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood.

In the background, an assortment of park furniture, trees and shrubbery.

The sun moved lower in the sky, the shadows lengthened and darkened.

The more dust I removed, the more these shadows grew.

Summer arrived. The children

leaned over the rose border, their shadows

merging with the shadows of the roses.

A word came into my head, referring

to this shifting and changing, these erasures

that were now obvious—

it appeared, and as quickly vanished.

Was it blindness or darkness, peril, confusion?

Summer arrived, then autumn. The leaves turning,

the children bright spots in a mash of bronze and sienna.

(from here) 

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Proust says . . .

Proust says memory is of two kinds.

There is the daily struggle to recall

where we put our reading glasses


and there is a deeper gust of longing

that comes up from the bottom

of the heart


At sudden times

For surprise reasons.


Here is an excerpt from a letter Proust wrote

In 1913

We think we no longer love our dead


But that is because we do not remember them;


We catch sight of an old glove


And burst into tears.


– Anne Carson, Float

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Remembering and forgetting

Really to forget something you have to forget you have forgotten it.

Anne Carson,  Stacks (in Float, )

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‘Remembering’ what we don’t remember

I agree with Freud and many other psychologists that our memories of being a baby and a very young infant hardly exist consciously but do shape us subconsciously. Investigating as far as possible into my own memory, there are things . . . that take me aback. I met an elderly lady who had known my grandparents, and she said how fond I’d been of my grandmother. I couldn’t remember. I had memories of her, but I didn’t remember a very great fondness. But she said that whenever I quarrelled with my mother, I would run away to my grandmother’s house. And that after my grandmother died, I was found outside the back door, banging and crying . . . I thought, How very touching. What a Dickensian detail. But I don’t remember anything like that, you know. . . .

. . when I was having my bad asthma attacks, my father said he wondered if it didn’t have anything to do with me having been chastised so often in infancy, and he reminded me of my defiance over food and how, when he came back from work, he would have to spank me for not eating the meals. He hated doing it, but he felt he had to. And then, since this did not calm me down, I would go into hysterics and start banging my head against the wall. To quiet the hysterics, they would fill the bath with cold water and plunge me into it. Which quieted my hysterics right away. I’d be put to bed. One thing was that we were given a good-night kiss. Being put into bed, I would think, I’m not going to let her kiss me tonight. But I could never refuse it, somehow. I’m quite glad, because I think it did shape my character.

And see, this is the thing — I didn’t remember any of it. I only remember it because my father reminded me.

Alasdair Gray , The Art of Fiction, no. 232. interviewer: Valerie Stivers, The Paris Review 2016

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A child’s dream

One morning at the breakfast table, when our boys were about five, one of them described a nightmare he’d just had—the first dream he seemed to recall. He was walking in a wilderness when an invisible voice asked, “Who are you?” This blew my mind. It seemed obvious to me, if not to him, that the voice was none other than his own. So here were two selves confronting each other—one self unknown to itself—at least one of which was self-aware enough to ask humankind’s most existential question.


But once a new self realizes its continuity it pauses. “I will always be me”—always, how long is that? A self capable of noticing that everything around it expires can’t avoid concluding that it will, too, somehow, sometime. And so, right around the time that Joshua and Leo turned four, the hard questions began: What is “die”? Will you die? When will you die? Will I die? Are people made of meat? When I die, who will blow out my birthday candles—and who will eat my cake?

Alan Burdick, The Secret Life of Time, The New Yorker, Dec 19,26, 2016 (from here) 

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