Reading Paul Auster's The Red Notebook brought to mind a worry I've had about my memory and its limitations and how this could affect my writing and my life. Maya Angelou's remembrances in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings are remarkable, as are Paul Auster's recollection of coincidence and episodes experienced by or told to him in his life, recounted in The Red Notebook.
Even if I had the writing skills of Angelou or Auster, I would not be able to put down remembered events without remembering them. Auster tells of the time he met a sporting hero of his, when he didn't have a pencil for autograph and how he's kept one on him since and how this is linked to why he became a writer. I have, over the years tried to capture memories, in photos, videos, scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, journals and little notebooks carried in pouches round my neck and more recently on my phone and online.
But my past memories are those elusive clouds that keep dissipating with the sunshine of the now. I wonder how to find them and realise I have to find the people who shared them and ask them to share them with me again. Memories such as those I only seem to have the titles for like these few that come to mind now:
- Cahirmee Fair
- 20 Sweet Briar Lane
- The whistle call home
- Cutting the peat
- Building tents against the hedge
- Cabbage, rhubarb & roses
- Playing in unbuilt houses
- Summer, sandals and bare feet
- Pennies on the railway line
- The turf mountain
- Robins in the hedge
- Waiting at the gate
- The pottery shed in the back
- Rabbits hanging outside the outhouse
- No whitethorn in the house
- The blue suitcase
- The wrong church
- The blacksmith
- The milk churn, wringer and latch on the door
- Rounders on the 'green field'
- The gunman in the shop
Nothing really seems noteworthy (apart for, perhaps the last) but all remembered. Why? Why do these events in my life stand out over others. I know that with some memories it's the adrenaline but for others its the association. Some feeling or other that stuck with me. As a writer my job is to unpack that and turn a feeling, event or remembrance into a story. Not an autobiography - a story.
There are only three reasons for anyone to write an autobiography:
- The person is extremely famous and/or talented in their field.
- The person has had an extraordinarily interesting life.
- The person can write so well that however ordinary their life, their writing can raise it to the extraordinary or at the very least be interesting to the reader.