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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Remembering and Recounting

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Memoir on November 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale

As I organize multiple pieces of Rosslyn’s renovation, our littoral Adirondack existence, and my still-young marriage into some sort of coherent storyline I wrestle consciously with occasional incongruities between my story and my life.

The narrative landscape is vast. Too vast, it often seems, to fit into a tidy memoir beginning with the crisp crack of a book spine opening for the first time, and the contented-sigh closure compelling stories demand.

Day after day, week after week I reread and rewrite, sort and distill and sort again, hunting for the essential story lurking amidst a mosaic of daily munge entries; four year’s worth of to-do lists; over fifteen thousand photographs; boxes of technical drawings and hasty sketches; hours of dictation; recorded meetings; and emails. Properly assembled, these miscellaneous artifacts form a multidimensional map of what took place between the spring of 2006 and the summer of 2012, but they fail to tell the story, they fail to recount the adventure lived.

19/03/2009 La Ministra de Cultuta de Colombia ...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Image via Wikipedia)

In fact, I am startled to discover that these precise, unambiguous reference points frequently contradict my recollection. Dramatic events indelibly etched into my brain at the time have already blurred despite the brief lapse of time.

I curse my mischievous mind and then accept that 100% accuracy will inevitably elude me. My mind’s imperfect cataloging at once humbles and liberates me. Though an imperfect historian, I am a chronicler and curator of stories, not facts.

Even when my data is unequivocal, I inevitably distort history, omitting and abbreviating and emphasizing, distilling the vast landscape of data into vignettes. These accrete gradually, revealing the narrative design of my story.

I am unlike my father and my brother who posses iron vaulted minds where information is deposited, preserved and safeguarded for later use. When the time comes to retrieve the information, they withdraw it from their vaults unaltered, uncontaminated, reliable, accurate.

I believe that there are different kinds of accuracy. I am a storyteller, not an historian, and though I strive for verisimilitude, some truths are more effectively preserved and conveyed through stories than history or vaults.

Some days I toil like an archeologist amidst a midden heap of artifacts, rewinding time’s mysteries, deciphering the prior summer’s garden vegetables from this season’s rich, dark compost.

Other days I seduce and charm and coerce the artifacts to share longer forgotten truths. I plant French radishes and bush beans in the compost-enriched garden and several unlikely seedlings emerge among the radish and bean sprouts. I skip them while weeding, and soon enough I am rewarded with yellow cherry tomatoes, wart covered gourds and a curly garlic scape! Although I’ve grown yellow cherry tomatoes in the past, I’ve never grown gourds or garlic.

I remember that we were given several multicolored gourds to decorate my bride’s annual Halloween birthday party last year. But they were smooth skinned. Perhaps they were discarded in the compost, and a recessive wart gene found its way into the germination process resulting in the exotic adaptation growing amidst the fattening radishes.

And the garlic? We eat plenty from Full and By Farm, our local CSA, but to date I have never planted garlic. I vaguely remember several bulbs that we left out while traveling last winter. When we returned home, the kitchen was ripe with the pungent odor of rotten garlic. The bulbs were discolored, sitting in a pool of their own brown fluid. Several garlic cloves had begun to germinate, pale green shoots emerging from the cloves and arching upward.

I imagine planting them in a terra-cotta pot and placing it on a windowsill in my study. Each morning I inspect their progress. One shoot yellows and grows limp, then wrinkles across the moist soil. The other three grow taller quickly, changing from pale to dark green. Soon they will twist into elegant scapes which I can cut just above the soil level. I will chop them up and sauté them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I will serve them to my bride as a dinner side with mashed potatoes and swordfish, and she’ll smile ear-to-ear, marveling that something so succulent could have grown by accident.

According to Garcia Marquez life is not only the experiences, the moments lived. Life is also the rendering of those experiences into stories, the recollecting, the filtering, the imagining, the sharing. To fully live we must share our stories. That’s an interesting notion in a world that more often favors accuracy, facts, history.

Perhaps even with history we become overconfident that the facts are irrefutable. Only in recent decades have scholars we begun to look critically at history’s biases, often tainted by ideology, objectives or favoring the victors to the vanquished.

Absent an omnipresent video camera that documents my life as I bump along, capturing every minute detail precisely, permanently, Garcia Marquez’s perspective offers reassuring guidance. Though I frequently daydream about a collaborative memoir comprised of the recollections of everyone who participated in the rebirth of Rosslyn, my story is an eclectic nexus of personal experiences, filtered, aggregated and cobbled into narrative cohesion by me.

I write these affirmative lines now, and yet I struggle with it each time my bride asks if she can participate more actively in the revising and editing. Yes, I tell her; when I am done. Which is not to say that I have neglected her input. I have sought it again and again. But her story is different from my own, as are the still unwritten memoirs of many creative and hardworking people who invested their time and energy into renovating our home. I hope to showcase many of their impressions and memories on the Rosslyn Redux blog. And I am optimistic that my memoir will serve as an invitation to dig into their memories and to recount their own versions of Rosslyn Redux.

Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for your guidance.

Almost Logical

In Memoir, What's the story? on June 10, 2011 at 9:35 am
What if? Wondering what life would be like living full-time in the Champlain Valley...

What if? Wondering what life would be like living full-time in the Champlain Valley...

Within minutes we were tripping over each other, drunk with excitement, imagining one whimsical “What if…” scenario after another. No filter, no caution. Our reveries flitted from one idyllic snapshot to another.

“What if I finally sat down and finished my novel?” After dawdling self indulgently for a dozen years – writing, rewriting, discarding, rewriting, shuffling, reinventing – my novel had evolved from failed poetry collection to short story collection to novel to a tangle of interconnecting narratives that loosely paralleled my life since graduating from college. Too much evolution. Too little focus. But what if I made time to sit down and knock it out? Reboot. Start over. Find the story. Write it down. Move on.

“What if you weren’t sitting in front of your computer all day? Every day?” Susan asked, returning to a common theme. “What if you went outside and played with Tasha? Took her swimming or hiking or skiing every day?”

“What if all three of us went swimming or hiking or skiing every day? What if Tasha and I went jogging along Lakeshore Road instead of the East River?”

We could waterski and windsurf for half the year instead of just two or three months, starting in May with drysuits and finishing in the end of October. We could sail the Hobie Cat more instead of letting it collect spider webs on the Rock Harbor beach. I could fly fish the Boquet and Ausable Rivers in the afternoon while Tasha snoozed on the bank. We could join Essex Farm, the local CSA, supporting a local startup while eating healthy, locally grown and raised food. I could grow my own vegetable garden, an herb garden, an orchard. Susan could work for an architecture firm in Burlington and volunteer at the animal shelter. We could buy season passes to Whiteface and downhill ski several days a week. We could cross country ski and snowshoe and bike and rollerblade and kayak and canoe and hike, and maybe I would start rock climbing again. And how much more smoothly the Lapine House renovation would be if we were on-site every day answering questions, catching mistakes before it was too late.

“I could interview candidates for Hamilton!” Susan said. She had recently become an alumni trustee for her alma mater, and her already high enthusiasm had skyrocketed. She had become a walking-talking billboard for the college. “You know how much more valuable it would be to interview candidates up here? There are tons of alumni interviewers in Manhattan, but in Westport? In Essex? In Elizabethtown?”

Suspended in lukewarm bathwater, our collective brainstorm leap frogging forward, it all started to make a strange sort of sense, to seem almost logical.

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