memories


I’ve been working on editing my mother’s memoirs for a while now, and I’m in the final stages, I do believe. Which means it’s time to replace my bracketed placeholders [insert that picture when you find it] with actual photos. My mother had a huge collection of snapshots and in her later years we’d sometimes go through them and I’d ask who everyone was and pencil in the description on the back. Then Mom “put the boxes away in a safe place” one day and subsequently couldn’t remember where. I’d made a half-hearted attempt to find them—and did find one small collection—but there were tons of photos I could remember but couldn’t find.

Then one day last week I realized there was a gigantic plastic tub—maybe 18 in. tall and wide and about 2 ft long—buried beneath a bunch of bags with books in them waiting to be recycled. I cleared off the bags and looked inside. The pictures my mother and I had both been looking for had been hiding in plain sight all along. So, I started going through them and scanning ones I needed for the memoir. And for other reasons. I’ve only made a small dent in this enormous collection. Many have the penciled information on them, many do not. And Mom kept everything, even the inside-your-purse-mistake photos, the thumb-enhanced photos, the so-blurry-you-can’t-tell-what-you’re-looking-at photos. (Back in the day when you took your film to One Hour Photo and the like they’d print everything, even the crap ones.) I have managed to throw away those, but the others? What to do with old photographs of people you don’t know?

I know what Cleaning Nazi Marie would say, but I just can’t throw them away. It’s like throwing the lives of those people away. I tell myself the old ones at least might have some historic value. And if that self-con doesn’t work, I remind myself that there is something of a market for these things at antique stores and flea markets. I don’t plan on selling them, but maybe the poor unfortunate who comes after me and cleans this place out can make a few bucks. Or finally get around to throwing them out. Either way, I won’t be involved.

My mother was not a particularly talented photographer. Too impatient to wait, frame, focus, get those thumbs out of the way. Just point, snap, and move on. Which is odd because she was a good and patient painter and crafter. There are a number of vacation snaps she never got into albums of places I can’t identify. I may get around to chucking those. Most don’t have people in them and they’re the kind of thing that is only precious to the one taking the picture because it evokes a memory of time, place, feeling. A memory I don’t have.

She also kept every note from baby gifts when I was born, every congratulations message, early birthday cards from her to me, and an entire keepsake book of Pamela paraphernalia. All the things to let me know I was once held precious by someone. I don’t say that in a pathetic way because it makes me feel warm inside. And miss her. The mother she was then, the mother she became again in her later years, not the mother in-between who tried to make me who I am not and who I fought with and hid from so much.

Memory is a double-edged sword, but I’m keeping all the memories, even the bittersweet, because they made me who I am today—as much as my mother did.

 

 

I got some devastating news about a friend yesterday. We had thought she’d gone into early onset dementia, which was tragic enough, but the final diagnosis was worse. She has Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease, also called subacute spongiform encephalopathy, also known in more tabloid terms as Mad Cow Disease.

It’s extremely rare (one per 1 million worldwide according to the Mayo Clinic), progresses rapidly, is incurable, and leads to death. Usually within a year of the onset of acute symptoms. All that can be done for her now is palliative care. They’re moving her to “a nice place” close to her brother.

How did she get this disease? No one will ever know. There was talk in the family about a trip she took to Egypt a few years back where she got really sick while there, but—also according to the Mayo Clinic—classic CJD hasn’t been linked to eating contaminated meat so who the hell knows? (It does occur, but it’s a variant of classic CJD and even rarer.) It can also develop spontaneously, usually in older people, due to abnormal changes in a kind of protein called prions.

There’s the clinical side of all that. Forgive me, but that’s how I deal with things. First the shock and grief, then I research, then I write, then a cycle back to grief. Sometimes while I’m writing. It’s my coping mechanism. But this isn’t about me, it’s about my friend.

She was such a bright star, full of life and abundant humor—sometimes sweet, sometimes pure delight and clever, sometimes mordant—but she always left us laughing. She had such a quick wit, a supple mind, strongly held opinions, abiding curiosity. She adored silent film and became something of a sourcebook for others who wanted information. She loved research and by determination and hardcore digging turned herself into an expert on the murder of Virginia Rappe by silent film star Fatty Arbuckle. It was her mission to redeem the reputation of poor Virginia who the lawyers (to save Arbuckle) and the studios (to limit liability) and the salacious press (to sell newspapers) dragged thoroughly through the mud. (It worked. Arbuckle was acquitted, though he never worked in Hollywood again, the press sold a lot of papers, and poor Virginia was labeled an irredeemable tramp not worth giving a damn about.) My friend had all the material ready and planned to write a book exposing this miscarriage of justice. All she managed were a few articles before life caught up with her.

If this sounds like a eulogy, it is. My friend is still alive, but the crystal palace of who she is—was—has already been shattered. Already she’s forgotten the names of friends. When I talked to her about a month ago, she asked me to send her a card through the old school mail with all my contact information (which she already had) so she’d have something she could hold in her hand and keep safe. I did. That may be why she and her caregiver thought to call me yesterday. They were both on the phone so the caregiver could fill in the many gaps for my friend. “She’s very concerned,” the caregiver told me, “that her friends will feel abandoned.” “No, darling,” I told my friend. “We don’t think that. We understand.”

My friend said, “Please tell the long-haired girl. Do you know who I mean?” I said the Long-Haired Girl’s name and she said gratefully, “Yes! Yes! Oh, how is she doing? I’m so worried about her. That disease.” The Long-Haired Girl—whose name she remembered a month ago—has been fighting cancer. I was glad to tell my friend (not for the first time) that it was in remission and to hear the overwhelming relief in her voice.

So that’s where we are: her trailing bits of shattered crystal behind herself as she moves rapidly to her final destination. And no one can pick up the pieces.

So much death this year. Each life precious. Every human being a shining world lost forever—except in the fragile crystal palace of those who still remember them.

Some ignoramus has posted a video on YouTube showing Frank Sinatra with Nat King Cole actually singing the song, “L.O.V.E.” This is the wonderful and classy Nat King Cole:


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Two hours without WiFi and I was hyperventilating. Fortunately, it was a simple fix, but I may have an addiction problem.
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Tommy. His eyes were actually a soulful gray, not blue. He was in his forties and had done his soldiering during World War I. He became a special police officer during World War II so the younger men could go and fight.

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I found an old keepsake box buried amongst a lot of, well, junk. Some genuine keepsakes inside the box, but also some very old story rejection letters from some of the top magazines, stuff I sent out when I was probably barely out of high school. All form letters, of course. I decided my nostalgia did not stretch to holding on to those any longer. I Kondo’d their a*ses.
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That feeling when something seemingly minor turns dark and deep and symbolic…

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I WILL NOT JOIN FACEBERG, no matter how many paranormal and Outlander live events they host. I WILL NOT become part of the evil empire! I WILL NOT! (Although I did succumb a little bit and joined Instagram. Mostly as a lurker.)
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What to do with all these calendars that people gave me because they didn’t know what else to give me? I only need one and that’s the one with kitties that I bought myself.
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Sometimes I look at my house and pity the person who, when I die, will have to clean out and dispose of ALL THESE BOOKS. But mostly I pity the books.
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Zero results from the Iowa Caucus are just about right if you consider Iowa’s relative importance to reflecting the diversity of the United States. They give such outsized importance to Iowa and New Hampshire. Nothing against either of those states but they’re hardly representative of the rest of the country. Yet because somebody gets defeated in either Iowa or New Hampshire often they’re eliminated from the race.
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I get nonsense phrases stuck in my head sometimes. When I was doing research for the WIP on Nazi occult matters recently, the nonsense phrase in my cranial echo chamber was, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn.” Research earworms. I have a weird brain. Fortunately, “Otto Rahn on the Autobahn” made me laugh.
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Ray Bradbury famously said about writing, “Jump off a cliff and build your wings on the way down.” I’m at that stage of my current WIP where I’m wondering if I’ve jumped off the wrong goddamned cliff.
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I’ve been reading Last Mountain Dancer by Chuck Kinder on and off for about a month. It’s both an interesting and irritating book so I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. I keep reading because it’s about West Virginia where Kinder was born and raised and when he talks about that place, the book sings. Then he goes off into the woods talking about his extramarital affairs and his bad boy ways and it gets boring. (I am so done with middle-aged male angst.)

But yeah, when he talks about what a remarkable and strange place West Virginia is on so many levels it’s worth the read. He goes into many legends, those arising from the tragedies of Matewan and the coal mine bosses, as well as Mothman and other less well-known oddities. It turns out his mother was born and raised in Point Pleasant, WV, home of Mothman, and that her maiden name was Parsons—which will have some meaning to those who follow Hellier.
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I was watching a show on Hadrian’s Wall and Vindolanda where they’ve discovered lots of messages to and from soldiers. In one of them the soldier refers to the tribes they were trying to keep north of the wall as “Britunculi”: “nasty little Britains.” My people!
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Hellier has made me way too map conscious. Every time I see something weird about a place I always have to find out where it is in relation to Point Pleasant or Somerset or Hellier or whatever. And it’s kind of amazing how much weirdness connects up.

I say this knowing full well how much the human mind longs for linkages and synchronicities.
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Lewis Black: “Trump is good for comedy the way a stroke is good for a nap.”
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Patrick Stewart was on Colbert the other week talking about when he was younger he and Ben Kingsley were here in LA doing Shakespeare, along with some other actors of the RSC. He said he and Ben went to Hollywood because they were excited to see the hand- and footprints at the Chinese theater (Sir Pat recently joined the famous hand- and footprints there). But the whole time he’s talking I was remembering being a young undergraduate at UCLA where Sir Pat and Sir Ben were doing those Shakespeare performances. During the day when they were not rehearsing or going to Hollywood all of the actors from the RSC would come to classrooms where Shakespeare and theater were being taught, talk to the students, and give impromptu performances. I was lucky enough to be in two such classes. One was Shakespeare, the other on Modern Theatre. I snuck into a third class taught in the theater department and held in an auditorium, but the other two were small English department classrooms. I was lucky enough to sit no more than 6-10 feet away from Sir Pat and Sir Ben while they answered questions and did impromptu performances. Utterly thrilling, even though neither of them was famous at that time. They were just masterful actors doing amazing performances up close and personal. Sir Ben still had his hair back then. Sir Pat did not. But his voice was that rich dark chocolate even back then. PRESENCE, both of them, and I never forgot.
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There’s hope, I think, even thought the GOP did not have the guts to do the right thing. During the impeachment trial I called my doctor’s office and the answering service picked up. As she took my message I heard the impeachment trial playing in the background. America is listening. We won’t forget. I hope they still remember next November.

When I was young I had a traumatic experience. And no, I’m not going to talk about it here because it’s my experience and deeply personal. I kept it to myself for three decades until after years of therapy I finally built up enough trust to speak of it. This was not a repressed memory, it was one I had always had, I just didn’t tell anyone about it because of a toxic mix of shame and fear. After telling my therapist, I told the people I was closest to and they helped me heal, but I’m done talking about it. Because if I am allowed to speak of it if I want to, to whomever I choose, then I am surely allowed to keep silent about it.

I only bring it up now because I want to talk about false memory syndrome. You see, there are things about my traumatic event that I know absolutely happened. But the tricky part is, there are other things surrounding this event that I know absolutely never happened. The insidious part is, in my mind and in my spirit, when those images and memories pop up, they are as real as the stuff that really did happen, even though I’ve proven to myself they are false. Because I’ve lived with this for a long time, when they pop up I can tell them firmly, “You’re not real.” I try to “gray them out” in my mind’s eye—but I accept that they will be there for as long as I live. Or at least until this current configuration of my brain exists.

It’s pathetically easy to plant false memories into almost anyone’s mind. The younger a person is when the attempt is made, the stronger and more tenacious the false memory will be—but even adults are not immune to false memory creation.

I hate it. It calls everything I’ve ever experienced into question. That’s why, whenever I have an incident, I go over it again and again, obsessively. I return to the place where it happened to make sure I was seeing the terrain correctly. If possible, I call in other people to either verify or deny, confirm or shrug helplessly. I pick everything apart, endlessly.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more accepting. I accept that the human mind has more in common with a hall of mirrors than a straight look into a glass. As far as I know, I only have the one false memory—but that’s the tricky part about them, isn’t it? Still, I try not to live in denial of all my experiences because that way lies madness. These days I accept, verify if possible, and move on.

Yes, I know I’ve spoken of having a number of extraordinary experiences, and admitting to having even one false memory calls them all into question, even to myself. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of these experiences in the company of others, or confirmed by others outside my own head, or confirmed by subsequent events, to know that sometimes weird stuff just happens to me.

But there will always be that niggling kernel of doubt, that gray area in my mind and spirit, that says this happened when it most assuredly did not. It’s a peculiar agony. It’s also my hedge against being a true believer in anything. Or anyone. I have yet to figure out if that’s a tragedy or a fail safe.

Random quote of the day:

“Memory insists with its sea voice
muttering from its bone cave.
Memory wraps us
like the shell wraps the sea.”

—Anne Michaels, “Memoriam”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

My mother loved collecting chatchkes. Some because she loved them, some because they were given to her, some just because they were there. Most of them are not really to my taste, so my plan has been for some time to sell them on eBay. Why shouldn’t someone who actually likes this stuff have it? And why shouldn’t I make a little cash on the side?

I’m keeping some of the chatchkes because I do like them, but there are others I’m keeping because I feel too guilty about selling them. These were dear to my mother and I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them. Let whoever has to clean out this house when I croak and won’t know what my mother loved deal with them. (Sorry, unknown person of the future.)

It’s odd the power that things can have over us. We shouldn’t let them, but we do. Still, I console myself that I am getting rid of a whole bunch of junk. That is, treasures that I do not sufficiently appreciate.

I have put some of the eBay plan into action, but I still have a ways to go before listing and selling. It will only be two weeks today since I left my job and I’ve had some serious depressurizing to do. I’m slowly getting there. I think I have plenty of time to bring this plan about, but we all think that, don’t we? One never knows when time will run out. But I would like to get this junk gone before that poor above-mentioned person has to deal with it. I really want to streamline this house. Need. I need to. For my own sanity.

Maybe I’ll even have the gumption to start cleaning out my mother’s room soon. It will be three years in January since she passed. I’ve moved things into her room in temporary storage, managed to give away all her clothes to the cleaning lady (who actually did the job of cleaning out the closet), but mostly her room remains a time capsule. I just haven’t had the heart to deal with it—and frankly, I see no reason to push myself. It’s an important part of the grieving and moving on cycle, but it’s also important to do things when the time is right for me.

Those things in that room are not my mom, much of it not even vaguely precious to her, but they are the last tenuous physical link I have to her. I need to get to the point of getting rid of them without feeling like I’m getting rid of her.

There are people who will say (who have said) that I should bite the bullet and just do it. But I fundamentally disagree with them. Grief is a process. It must be moved through on its own timetable. And only the one who is doing the grieving knows what that timetable is.

In the meantime, I am surrounded by junk, both precious and not. But I am in motion. I hope to stay in motion, to keep moving forward until time stops.

Random quote of the day:

“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives.”

—Luis Buñuel, My Last Breath

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Orville and Wilbur, Katy Perry, or the Avengers. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”

—Antonio Porchia, Voices (tr. W. S. Merwin)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Memories
Are hunting horns whose sound dies in the breeze…”

—Guillaume Apollinaire, “Cors de Chasse”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

—Gabriel Garcia Márquez, quoted in The Guardian, 21 January 2001 from his then memoir-in-progress

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Lucy and Ethel, Justin Bieber, or the Kardashian Klan. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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