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:

“All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.”

—Federico Fellini, The Atlantic, December 1965

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:

“The memoir is inventing speech to suggest that which lies beyond speech. To truly render a single hour would require enormous effort.”

—Joyce Carol Oates, Twitterfeed, May 24, 2014

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.

Yesterday I spent nearly four hours transcribing my mother’s memoir. It’s a huge job, the bulk of which I did years ago, but I’d printed it out at a certain point with lots of footnotes asking Mom questions about things. She dutifully went through everything, often answering questions, sometimes not. Those answers are what I’ve been transcribing.

I’ve felt a pressure to get this done lately so I can pass it on to interested parties in the family—or outside. I even dreamed about it the other night. After talking to a 90-year-old relative yesterday (still perky and independent, thank the gods) it hit home profoundly that Old Time, she’s a-flying. So, I took a break from my own writing to concentrate on this.

My mom had a remarkable life in her not-quite-94 years, ranging from cattle drives and log cabins to Rosie the Riveter to the digital age and voting for the first African American president. She has a lively stream of consciousness writing style. Her sense of humor and spunk come through clearly, her sense of adventure and fun and unself-conscious grit. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but sometimes it’s frustrating. She’ll toss out stuff like going to see big bands at the Aragon Ballroom during World War II and I’ll ask her to tell me more about it: what did the ballroom look like, what did the people wear, what did the bands play, what kind of crowd was there, etc. All the telling details that make a scene come alive. Sometimes she’ll go into more detail, sometimes I can tell she’s bugged by my questions and she’ll write things like, “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember.” Or worse, “It was just an ordinary ballroom.”

Because, of course, for her it was just an ordinary ballroom. It was hard for her to conceive of the fact that people don’t live like that anymore. Sometimes when I’d point that out to her, she’d perk up and go into nice, rich detail. But not always. My questions, I think, were sometimes a chore to her.

I keep repeating to myself as I transcribe, “She’s the writer, not me. It’s not the way I would have approached it, but this is her memoir, not mine.” And she wasn’t striving for a literary work, just a walk down memory lane to share with me and whoever else might want to read it. I’ve tried to leave things as she relayed them. On a couple of occasions when her memories overlapped mine and she’d resisted my requests for more detail, I’ve filled in the blanks trying to match her style, but I’ve kept that to a minimum. Her story, her words.

The vast majority of this was before her stroke, before the incredible time and energy suck of caregiving. Before the long, slow slide of my grief years, before I could face a project like this. Years.

After the stroke, my mom’s mind was still lively (thank the gods) and her memories intact, but her vision was seriously impaired. Her handwriting, always somewhat of a challenge, got more challenging as time went by. But still she persisted—and so do I.

I got almost all of the footnote answers transcribed. And near the end, when my own end was going numb and my stomach was growling and I thought it was time to stop for the day, I came across several more handwritten pages. More material, untranscribed. Some of it must have been written years past, long before the stroke. Others were clearly after, getting on towards the last years. I tried reading those, and it’s going to be touch and go, frankly. I didn’t despair at finding new work. I grieved that she was no longer around to clarify things, to ask for more details, to be bugged by my questions.

But that’s the ephemeral nature of existence. I’ll do my best with Mom’s legacy. I know in my heart she appreciates what I’ve already done.

But Old Time, she’s a-flying.

Random quote of the day:

“Memoir is the last place you’d expect to find the truth.”

—David Sedaris, interview, The New York Times, June 8, 2008

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Laurel and Hardy, Ariana Grande, or the Salvation Army Band. 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.