Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Of Narrative, Judgment, and Memory

If it was a week ago, I'd be telling my nephew his own story about the old woman who lived in a firehouse.  I first wrote about that story here.  I remember being fascinated by my nephew's lack of conflict (some might say lack of plot).  I remember wondering if he'd always be content with lack of plot.

I now know the answer:  no.  I told him his story, which is essentially a list of what you'd find in a firehouse.  He stared at me in disbelief when I said, "The end."  He said, "That's it?"  He had a look of distaste on his face.

Now we have plot of all kinds, although all of the stapled together books he created had the same amount of pages.  When I realized I would need more pages, I introduced my nephew to the concept of sequels.  I had a canoe captured by pirates and ended the story with the pirates not letting the boaters back into their canoe.  He said, "Then what happens?"  I said, "I don't know.  I'm out of pages."

He handed me another booklet and said, "Write me another, please."

I'm a sucker for a built-in audience.  I wrote another and another.  We illustrated them.  It was great fun.

During Thanksgiving week, I also noticed my nephew has discovered self-judgement.  I've always been fascinated by his creative process and by how accepting he has been of his work and the work of others.  He's never said to me, "That's stupid.  That doesn't even look like a flower."

I was fairly sure that wouldn't last.  He's still not critical of others, but he's started being critical of himself.  He had created a picture with crayons and later in the day, he tried to add paint to the picture.  Next thing we know, he's melting down in frustration.

My sister, his mother, asked what was wrong.  He said he'd had a good picture and he'd messed it up when he tried to paint.  And when he tried to fix it, he made it worse, which made him more frustrated and sad/angry.

Yes, I'm familiar with this part of the creative process--although lately, I'm happy to have time to create, even if it doesn't come out how I'd like.  I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to go back and revise all these drafts I create, but if I'm not churning out words and pages, I get really anxious.  I know so many talented people from undergraduate and graduate school, and so many of them have ceased creating.  That makes me so sad for that loss of potential.

I may not have published everything I wanted to publish yet, but piles of rough drafts make me think that maybe some day, I'll still have a chance.  And my rough drafts are often not as rough as you'd think, because I spend so much time planning before I start writing.

On Sunday, I was thinking about this issue of living up to our potential that we demonstrated as students.  I thought about the ways my younger self would have thought I was successful.  I said, "Of course, if I had told 19 year old Kristin that I was a paid blogger, she'd ask what that was.  She'd probably be very impressed that I can write a blog post that's read by hundreds of people."

She'd still want to know why I didn't have a book with a spine yet.  Nineteen year old Kristin is that hard-nosed kind of girl.

Sometimes, I wish I didn't have the kind of memory that I have.  Maybe I'd be easier on myself.  Or maybe I'd forget the basic fabric of my life.

Last night, my spouse said, "C______ really thinks we'd like the movie Dark Shadows."

I said, "You remember that we saw that, right?  In the theatre?"

He shook his head.  "I have no memory of that at all," he said.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the memory was forgettable.  But how could he forget how much money we spent and how disappointed we were?

I worry that these memory issues of my spouse are symptoms of something larger and horrible, something happening several decades before I expected it to happen.  I'm trying to see it as a potential positive:  he's not wasting precious brain space holding on to bad movies.

After all, he's not blogging/journaling.  I think the reason I remember so much because I've written it down.  That patten of paying attention has served me well.  It's served me well as a creative person.  But perhaps in other ways, not as much.  I might be happier if I didn't have a record of daily life, with its disappointments and confusions.  Or I might be sadder, if I didn't have a space to puzzle through the issues.

Not that it matters.  I first started keeping a journal when I was 12.  It's an established habit now.  That's my hope, at least.  These pages and blog posts make good rough drafts too.


Sandra said...

This is a lovely if at times wrenching post, and resonates a bit with what I was just writing about today on Chicks Dig Poetry. Thank you for doing what you do!


Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

Thanks for reading and for noticing the resonances.