Monday, November 10, 2014

NaBloPoMo: Imperfect (Missing) Memory

This week's writing prompt for Autobiographical Literacies: Consider Thomas' comments in Thinking About Memoir and directions about imperfect memory, memory in the making, total recall, and physical memories (textures), among others. Then think about the positive and negative experiences of family relationships that Burroughs recounts in A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father. In light of your readings, write two pages about the thing you wanted to be or write two pages about the softest thing.

Here’s a problem: I can’t remember a “softest thing.” I don’t have a textural memory, so I don’t remember people’s softness – or softness in general – in terms of physicality. It’s Thomas’ assertion that “just saying what it is you can’t remember gets the engine to turn over” (46). So this is what I don’t remember: the smell, or the physicality of touch. Texture is a superfluous element of memory, which is why I struggle here. I simply don’t associate people with softness (or, if I were to be cynical, their hardness). My memory is imperfect here. Thomas opines that “[m]emory seems to be an independent creature inspired by event, not faithful to it” (38), which to my mind is indicative of remembering the emotions and sights surrounding an event or person. These specifics are tied to developmental moments, key points in one’s life, a reflection of desire, as expressed by Thomas’ memories of her daughter wanting to be a leather purse, or describing how the scent of Noxzema reminded her of a long-ago love affair. There’s softness here, tied to the positive.

Meanwhile, the description that Burroughs incorporates into the beginning sentences of his memoir indicates a prevailing hardness: “Broken sticks and sharp stones gouged my bare feet…A branch whipped across my face; I felt the sting” (1). These descriptions are not symbols of childhood love, or of positive desire (perhaps aside from wishing to avoid a relationship with his father, and by extension, physical, emotional, and mental pain). The formative memories that stay with him are not representations of love, as Thomas’ memories represent; that Burroughs’ first descriptions are of hardness, of pain, of being physically broken, foreshadow these attributes being central to his memoir. Thomas’ and Burroughs’ rhetorical choices illustrate their mindsets as well: The imperfect memory to which Thomas refers is exemplified throughout Burroughs’ story, especially in his descriptions at the beginning, in which he includes flashes of memories. The touch, sight, taste, and texture of early childhood demonstrate the nuances in his descriptions of a cracker, his mother’s skirt, his mother’s voice: “no words, just sounds” (3, 4). Textural memories abound: “My mother’s voice is my home, and I am surrounded by her sounds” (4) – reflects not only textural and imperfect memories (both of which Thomas refers to), but there are elements of comfort and softness here, too, and diametrically opposed to his interactions with his father.

Try as I might, I cannot recall neither a “thing” I wanted to be, nor a “softest thing.” I wanted to be “elsewhere” (or another person in terms of a character – Indiana Jones, Anne Shirley) which is, I suspect, a response for a different time. I have no particularly tactile memories that reflect Burroughs’ hardness or Thomas’ softness. While I know this could be interpreted – or misinterpreted – as the result of an unhappy childhood, this was not the case; I suspect I had what is colloquially called “an overactive imagination” (one of those kids who got in trouble for reading too much; perhaps this is why my eyesight is so terrible). Any softness is related to imagination, related to emotional response. Perhaps this is what Thomas refers to, but I have no textural memories to draw on. Now that I think about it, I wonder what this says about my ability to connect with other people.

Works Cited 
Burroughs, Augusten. A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father. New York: St. Martin's, 2008. Print. 
Thomas, Abigail. Thinking about Memoir. New York: Sterling Pub., 2008. Print.

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