I used to think of letter-writing as a creative endeavour and always looked forwards to it. I wrote things in different ways depending on my mood. I assumed most people I talked to read similar books, so it threw me once when I wrote a true short story involving my cats as though it was a section from the bible, and the penpal wrote back to say she didn’t understand it, and what was it about? She was too polite to say, “What IS all this nonsense??” but was probably thinking it. I can’t remember what my response was, but was perplexed at the time — how could she not get the literary reference?
Now I’m less creative, probably because I feel less chatty. There’s no point spinning a yarn when you’re no longer sure it’s of interest. I know there are people who understand that — how you begin life playfully writing a lot to people, then one day look round and realize you don’t any more.
It can’t just be about other people; it’s also about a changing perspective. Sometimes you reread something you wrote years ago and think, “What IS all this? Did I really think that??” and it makes you wary of similar nonsense you might be committing to paper right now.
On the other hand, I’ve written about things that I can’t fully remember any more, so if I look through old scribblings and find these accounts, I will be happy. Last night I was trying to remember something specific that happened, then said to myself “Oh, it’s OK, I wrote about it!” — but now I can’t remember what I was trying to remember.
That reminds me; a few days ago when having coffee with Mum and sister, I said “What would it be like to remember absolutely everything?” I can’t even remember what put that question into my mind, but sometimes I look back with the help of a paper trail of sorts and can’t make sense of the things I was doing, though I know there must have been good reason for certain decisions. I wasn’t making mistakes per se — just doing something different from usual, like an antelope twisting in the air when leaping. Nevertheless, what if we could remember absolutely everything… every letter, every word, every comma? The longer we lived, the more there would be to remember, but what if we could remember it all anyway, and look back over past sequences of events with clear-eyed confidence?
My mother said that would be absolutely awful! Who wants to remember everything? Then she started talking about one of her friends, saying she has an amazing memory. She remembers meals in perfect detail, long after everyone else has forgotten what they had. So my sister asked what I had for supper last night, and I said it was stuffed crust pizza, and I ordered it from the supermarket because it was half-price. Anyway, it’s easy to remember what you had for supper the night before!
Now an old poem has come to mind but of course I only vaguely remember how it started, though it was one of those things you’ve read over and over in a childhood book. “I remember, I remember the house where I was born.”
That’s amazing, when you think about it — how many people must have been able to say “I was born in that house!” but nowadays it’s rare. Most people are born in hospital, which is pretty dreary. Whoever wrote or was the narrator of that poem was from a time long gone, and I feel both awed and sad.
After a few minutes searching online — turns out it was by a Thomas Hood, and the poem itself can be found on the Poetry Foundation site.
Oh, I remember a swing too. It was in our garden, and I used to swing really high – what a rush! Mum said the swing was broken one time and I forgot and went on it before anyone could get to it to repair it, and it was fortunate I didn’t have an accident. That swing was the sort of thing I might tell people about, and especially about the army ants that took up beside the swing one time and jumped on me… but I got put off when one day somebody answering my chatty email said “you talk a lot about your childhood, don’t you?” I didn’t realize till then that it wasn’t considered normal. However, now I’m glad I did, because I’ve forgotten an awful lot of it, so it would be nice to have that little glimmer of light into the past.
The other day I was writing a business communication about something, and Mum took a look at my draft email and said, “Be chatty! Sometimes you can be a little terse.” I was taken aback. If anyone was the king of terse correspondence, it was my father, and my mother isn’t too far behind him in that regard, but I was always inclined to chat a little bit, and finish off with ‘Thanks and best wishes’ rather than something shorter and colder like ‘Yours’. I didn’t think what I wrote was terse in the least, especially as the individual I was writing to is one of the dustiest, most dour people I’ve ever had the pleasure to communicate with… so it was comical to be lectured on how I wasn’t chatty enough.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling for tonight… time to sleep. 🙂