Saturday, March 07, 2020

Fuzzy Memories

We've been reading Brown Girl Dreaming, which has led us to some very interesting conversations—about civil rights, naturally, but also about life in general. It's a book of poems that tell about her growing up years, a format which Woodson says felt very natural for her to do because "that’s how memory comes to me, in these small moments with all of this white space around it.” I love that explanation about memories and poetry being so connected. Of course there's room to fill in all the blank space, but a lot of that is conjecture, isn't it? It's what you are piecing together from what you remember because we simply can't remember everything—even the biggest most poignant moments in our lives end up a little fuzzy in our memories.

That said, Woodson seems to recall a lot about her childhood, perhaps because she's a natural storyteller. I, too, find myself constantly telling stories and as I've been reading more and more books about writing I find myself identifying more and more as a writer. It's easy to miss the very obvious things about you, I think. At least, it is for me.

Miriam and I were out walking a while ago and she said to me, "I think I want to devote my life to music. I just love music so much. I love listening, I love practicing, I love playing, I love writing music. It's just what I love. And I can study music at college and teach music lessons and perform and..."

And I don't think I had any such solid plan for myself when I was ten years old.

I don't know that I have such solid plans for myself now, going on 35.

But I think I'd like to be a writer or that I am a writer simply because I enjoy writing and it's what I do. In Anne Lamott's book Bird by Bird she describes herself as the one "the other kids always tell...stories of what had happened, even—or especially—when they had been there.... I could make the story happen. I could make it vivid and funny, and even exaggerate some of it so that the event became almost mythical, and the people involved seemed larger, and there was a sense of larger significance, of meaning" (p. xx). Woodson seems to have that same skill, sharing snippets of her younger self listening to the grown ups tell stories and then repeating them for her older siblings while they fell asleep at night. And I see a bit of that in myself, I see life unfolding and I want to tell it again, to give it new life, to let it keep living, to make it part of me.

And so my memories run deep, I think, because my past is part of my present and both are part of my future. The lines get blurred, because that's how memories are for everyone—fuzzy. But it's a different sort of fuzzy for everyone, too.

Miriam wrote a beautiful poem in response to some of Jacqueline Woodson's poems about moving to New York (and her comparisons of New York to South Carolina). I assigned the children to write a poem about moving from Spanish Fork to Atlanta, comparing the two places.

At first Miriam gave me a straight list, which I told her was good—sometimes a list can be a poem—but that I wanted her to expand her list into a more lyrical form, with adjectives and metaphors and so forth. And boy did she deliver.

In Utah it was dry.
No moldy bread.
We kept bread in the pantry.

In Georgia it's humid, 
Which means moldy bread.
We don't have a pantry.
We keep bread in the fridge.

In Utah we went to school.
There were bullies and betrayals.
There was walking to school
On a crisp autumn morning,
The mountains dyed orange with leaves.

We had to make new friends in Georgia.
Other friends' addresses lost.
Like Grandma.

Here in Georgia she's been dead for a year.

A year of sickness, mourning, friends, funerals,
Cousins, aunts and uncles I never met.
Wiis and switches and music and bread,
All smudged together like an eraser
Had gone all over it.

Some parts forgotten.

Some not.

You guys! That line about the eraser smudging over memories—leaving hints about what actually happened—is so beautiful to me.

Whatever happens and wherever life takes me, I'm sure I'll keep writing because writing is what I do. But, honestly, perhaps Miriam should give it a shot, too, because she has a way with words herself.


  1. The thoughts of her combining her music with her poetry has me weak in the knees! Wonderful poem, with a deep emotional intelligence.