memories


Random quote of the day:

“All we can ever be is faithful to our memories of reality, rather than the reality itself, which is something closely related but never precisely the same thing.”

—Matt Haig, How To Stop Time

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I’ve started an ambitious and decidedly strange project. I’ve had a lot of weird things happen in my life. Some are really crazy, most more mundane, but a steady accumulation of odd things that sometimes make for interesting stories. And I am, above all, a storyteller. I’m also of an age where if I don’t tell these stories now my personal library will burn down without them ever being shared. So, I’m going to attempt to recount all the weird things that have ever happened to me, told in roughly chronological order—or as close to that as I can remember.

Some of these stories have been told before in other venues, some have not. Some are funny, some are not. We’ll see if they’re as interesting to others as they are to me and my friends. Where possible I’ll relate them to a larger cultural context, using research into psychology, the paranormal, science, history or whatever else seems relevant. That means, thankfully, this will not be exclusively about me—because I am far from endlessly fascinating. I may invite others to tell their own weird stories, either directly or (if they’re too shy) through me. That is, of course, dependent on whether others are as willing as I to make public confessions. I’m relatively sure others have similar stories, many of them much more interesting. If anyone reading this would like to share, please contact me.

Will anyone read this series? I haven’t got a clue. It’s just something I feel the need to do even if I’m speaking in an echo chamber. Because, as I’ve said before, time is not infinite.

So, to begin.

The first odd thing I mean to share is not such a strangeness in and of itself except in context. It’s about my earliest memory and more broadly about what science has to say about memory itself:

I floated on a raft on a scorching hot day. The sun insisted on brightness in a frighteningly enormous sky, and there was not a breath of air, but I was cool near the water. And happy. The water smelled fresh, my wet clothes insulated me from the heat, and I floated at the center of the universe.

The raft bob-bob-bobbed and my father’s elbow rested on its edge near where I lay, everything from his shoulders down hidden by dark water. His voice was gentle as he talked to me, but his words have been swept away by the unrelenting tide of time.

I don’t know where my mother was. She had to have been there, but she doesn’t exist in this memory, one of the few times she didn’t loom like God Herself in the background.

My father plucked me from the raft and held me in the water. It felt right, my natural element, and I loved the wet embrace of the river. I may have purled with laughter. Or that may be something I made up later.

My mother told me I couldn’t remember any of this, not really. She said I wasn’t even one yet because they hadn’t swum at Ballona Creek past that time.

It was Ballona Creek, right?

I believe there is a picture of that raft, that river, my dad in swimming trunks, and my mother and I, but I don’t know where it is. The science of memory

says I may have used that picture to conjure up the whole confabulation of floating because I couldn’t possibly remember anything from such an early age. Certainly, my next earliest memory skips forward a few years in time, but this earliest memory is insistent, and I may have to beg to differ with my mother and the science of memory. And didn’t Jung say part of the psyche exists outside of us? This is a memory of the psyche, a pearl hidden in the tight embrace of my brain. I’m keeping it. Because I found my element that day, the water, and because it’s one of the few uncontaminated memories I have of my father.

Oh hell, that’s not true. I have a lot of good memories of my father. Memory is the trickiest son of a bitch there is and insists on presenting itself as a respectable, churchgoing truthsayer. It’s true, however, that the bad memories of Dad, coming later in the timeline, do somewhat overbalance the good. I have to root out the good memories, pull them from the muck and hose them off to recapture their likeness. But they do exist. Even in abundance.

My mother was the same way about memories. If stupid things like facts contradicted the way she remembered, they had to be wrong, and the memories of others? Not even to be considered. My mother’s version of events was the official story.

And so say all of us.

In discussing this with my friend, L., she relayed her earliest memory:

She was lying in her crib, or maybe her first “big girl” bed, and looking up at the mobile that hung over it. It was a lovely thing, a bunch of Pegasus figures flying round and round in the air currents. Later, when she mentioned this as an adult to her mother, Mom said, “We never had anything like that in your room.”

So who was misremembering?

The default prejudice is that the child must be mistaken. But where did that memory come from? Or did that dancing mobile of Pegasus figures exist—but only L. could see them? Children, they say, are able to see things adults no longer can…

But that gets into a whole other weird territory that is beyond the scope of this entry. Let’s put it down to the gossamer of memory and leave it at that.

Random quote of the day:

“Time, as we know it, is the original shape-shifter. Now the line of it runs straight as an old railway track; now it is a circle—many circles, in fact. Now it dances without moving—to and fro across millennia—around the whole turning world, filling the night sky with bounding green lights. Past, future, present: the unbidden, ineffable gift of it all. Memory is like a white moth in flight. Sometimes she comes so close that we can see the light falling into the hidden parts of ancient markings. On other days we cannot see her but we feel the delicate wing-beat down deep, in beside our bones.

—Kerri ní Dochartaigh, Thin Places

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

If you’ve ever had to clean out someone’s home, particularly an old person, you will encounter many strange things that have you wondering why that person hoarded what they did. I had a friend who cleaned out her mother’s house after she died and found cupboard after cupboard crammed with plastic bags, far more than any human being could possibly use in a lifetime. But, you see, that mother grew up in the Depression where you Just Did Not Waste Anything that might possibly, remotely be useful somewhere down the line. Once she’d started collecting those bags, I’d wager, she just kept saving them because that was What She Did. She may not even have remembered herself what her original motivation was, she just kept doing it, even after the stashing of them became somewhat oppressive.

Some things are a little less daffy than cupboards filled with plastic bags, but still make no sense to those tasked with the massive and exhausting clean up.

I had a Rosebud moment yesterday morning. Those of you who are classic film fans may get that reference but if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane I won’t spoil it by explaining. My personal moment came when I looked into the room where I’ve stored a lot of stuff and saw a broken three-legged stool.

When they come to clean out my house when I’m dead or in a home somewhere they will look at that stool and say, “Why the hell did she hold on to this?” Or maybe not. There will be a lot of those moments when they clean out my house so by the time they get to that stool they may be too exhausted to care and just chuck it onto the bonfire.

But, you see, I couldn’t throw that stool away. I used to sit on it when I was small while I listened to my father tell stories. He was a great storyteller. Some of this tales about his personal adventures were even true. It didn’t matter if they were literally true or only emotionally true. They were good stories and I loved listening to them.

So that stool stays and becomes just another piece of mysterious bric-a-brac from an old person’s life to be wondered at and tossed away. It is a thing of memory, mine and no one else’s, and I can’t possibly hope they will understand or care when I am gone. Memory makes things precious beyond all thought of logic.

I have, however, tried to strip my house free of most of those saved plastic bags. (But I’ll bet there’s a stash of them hiding somewhere that even I don’t know about.)

Random quote of the day:

“Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.

—Virginia Woolf, Orlando

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“The memories of childhood are like clear candles in an acre of night, illuminating fixed scenes from the surrounding darkness.

—Carson McCullers, “The Orphanage,” Collected Stories of Carson McCullers

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Some soul on Twitter posted this with the caption “Somewhere in Los Angeles”:

To which I felt compelled to reply:

That would be Venice, corner of Pacific and…Brooks?

Then I felt compelled to do a quote retweet:

My old neighborhood, Venice CA, corner of Pacific and Brooks. I passed this intersection almost every day for decades and this box with its rotating wonderful messages for maybe 10 years. I miss it. I miss that place.

And added:

This is what that lovely old brick building looks like now, I’m afraid. They did a high end refurbishment and tore out that lovely old wooden door, destroyed the character of the place. It used to be an artist’s studio and sometimes I would see a gray cat sitting in one of the windows taking in the world. The box with the message on it is gone now, too. Of course, it’s always possible I’m remembering the wrong intersection. There’s a similar building on the corner of N. Venice Blvd. and Pacific. It’s been a few years.

But it was bugging me because in the original post there was a tall brick building looming behind the smaller building. As you can see from photo 2 there is no such building behind this one. I got a little obsessed with it and started searching.

 

 Yep, Pacific and N. Venice. I used to live two blocks from here, right across the street from Billy Al Bengston’s studio but that was a hoary great age ago.>/i>

I think this is the box from the photo but I may be an unreliable narrator.

I “drove” down Pacific via Google maps. In my defense, the building on Brooks and Pacific used to look virtually identical. There was an old wooden door, a cat who sat in the high windows, it was a studio, and it broke my heart when they “upgraded” it.

Further obsessive compulsive behavior led me to find out that the Canal Club, which was housed in the N. Venice Blvd. behind the wooden door, is now permanently closed. A victim of COVID, perhaps. The Ace Gallery used to be a few doors down from there on Venice, but it’s also now permanently closed (although I believe it moved to Downtown before finally closing).

The palimpsest of all these old neighborhoods is strong in me, though perhaps not as strong as I thought. I lived nowhere else but Venice until I was in my thirties when it got “discovered” by developers and I could no longer affords the rents. I miss it a great deal sometimes, although I know it’s been “upgraded” away from the place I knew and loved. The old down-at-the-heels, funky, bohemian Venice was infinitely preferable to its current incarnation as Silicon Beach. Alas. The place I almost remember is long gone.

This is another day of remembrance, but I won’t go there.

Requiescat in pace.

Beach Twilight 3, timed exposure, Venice Beach, California, early ‘80s
 

I was once a prodigious photographer. For about 20 years back in the mid-70s to mid-90s I never went anywhere without my camera. First a Minox 35 GL then a Canon AE-1. I loved the little Minox, but it was automatic focus, you see, and I wanted more control. So I got the Canon. I couldn’t afford a Nikon at the time, but the Canon was highly rated and I was happy with it. I experimented with a lot of things—infrared film, timed exposures, B&W portraits, etc., etc. I used film, I used slide film. Back then I could talk the talk, but like any skill long out of practice, I’ve forgotten much of it. But I was left with a mountain of film strips and slide boxes.

Once I switched to digital, first with a baby Nikon, then the lazy way with my cell phones, I became a snapper rather than a photographer. This may have been because with my old manual camera I had to stop and consider each shot. Frame it, decide what f-stop to try, experiment with focus, etc. This was true even of the Minox. The focus was automatic, but I was still responsible for the light settings, et al.

Or maybe I always took a bunch of crappy photos and once a roll or so got lucky. Maybe I was just pretending to be a photographer and was nothing but a delusion dilettante, a snapper, a poseur. (You know the Imposter Syndrome drill.)

But at least with digital I didn’t have to worry about mountains of film strips and slides. And I had ceased being a serious photographic aficionado at some point, mainly (maybe) due to the cost of buying and developing film, maybe for other reasons I no longer remember or want to admit. Photography back in the olden days was not an egalitarian pursuit. It cost money, and not just the initial expense for nice cameras. It was a money pit of film and developing and dark room supplies. (I did get marginally smarter at a certain point and started getting proof sheets rather than paying for everything to be developed, but still.) At least with good digital and good camera phones available many more people can pursue this art form.

I got an expensive high-quality flatbed scanner back in ’06 or thereabouts and started digitizing things. But scanning is a laborious process and I was not dedicated to getting through that mountain of film stuffs quickly. After a while, the scanner went belly up. I tried reloading the software and doing a bunch of other things but alas. It may have been a victim of a power surge, but I didn’t have the ambition to send it to the dealer so I’ll never know. The warranty had run out and I didn’t want to spend the money, frankly. Recently, I thought I really should do something about that film mountain so back in April I acquired a cheaper but still well-rated mini scanner and began the process again.

At first it was a giant surprise seeing what came up on the screen, a half-remembered country that had once been so important to me. But I quickly discovered (actually, I knew this but didn’t want to acknowledge the fact) that the quality of both film and slides degrade badly over time. I also discovered what an awful lot of really bad photos I had taken. True, I started scanning with a set of vacation slides I’d taken in the early 80s in Seattle and they may not have been representative of my overall skill. In my mind, though, I remembered getting some great stuff. And if I can ever find the prints I had made of those slides back then, maybe I did or maybe I didn’t. Particularly disappointing were the pix I took of Puget Sound with its heart-stopping green beauty. I remember being pleased with how they came out—even though no photo could really capture the totality of that beauty. But when the scans came up on the screen, everything was washed out or too dark and even photoshopping couldn’t redeem them. It was so discouraging I quit scanning in despair, feeling like an entire portion of my life had been nothing but a sham.

Yesterday, I chided myself into doing more scanning. “Either scan this stuff or throw it out.”* There was one picture in particular I wanted to find but who knew where the hell it was, which box or envelope. I had labeled many of them, but not all. I picked some unlabeled slide boxes at random, opened the first one, and there it was, right on top. And it hadn’t degraded!

Shadow Dragon, Santa Monica, California, early ‘80s (?)
 

Not a startlingly great shot but one I remembered fondly. One of those once in a roll lucky shots. One that let me know that I may have been mostly crap, but every once in a while I was slightly less crap. (Kind of like the old proverb, “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while.”)

I’m still looking for other remembered pictures, that lost horde of imagined gold, hoping the slides haven’t degraded too badly. Certain signature shots that loom large in my mind. They may turn out to be just as disappointing as those Seattle snaps, but one lives in hope.

*Please note: I have thrown away some of the crappy stuff, but find myself completely incapable of throwing out even the crappiest shots of any animal I have ever known and loved.

Random quote of the day:

“History is a people’s memory, and without memory man is demoted to the lower animals.”

—Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Even if what your jealousy tells you is true, no matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”

—Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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