Beyond the Limits of Here and Now

By Arielle Silver

14229666915_bdeaf2dc9f_nMemories. It’s so easy to lose them in the tangle of time. But how do we write without them? Even fiction writers rely on the truth of experience for their stories. The weight of a body, the shame of slight—how could we ever write about these experiences, either our own or our characters’, without remembering those moments ourselves?

A common story: a man, a stranger, recently reached out to me on Facebook. I didn’t recognize his face or the abbreviated nickname, but our list of mutual childhood friends was extensive. I tried to crack the mystery of this grown man whose features triggered no memory. Someone had tagged him in a middle school picture, the composite type with the principal and homeroom teacher stacked among individual portraits of the students. The photos were each enveloped in a thick white border, every face hemmed in and separated from the others as if this group of twenty humans, these kids who saw each other every morning, were complete strangers.

I recognized only a few of the students. A boy, bottom row, became high school valedictorian. One above later enlisted in the military and then built his family in the Philippines. Below, a girl who someone has told me walked through the fire of heroin and somehow emerged unscathed. Another girl, center, moved into town and then away in a quicker succession than my own family.

The man, the stranger, is there in the composite photo. In boy-form, he has a sweet face that I almost remembered. A day and night later, I finally made the connection. I recalled the old unabbreviated name of that rambunctious kid whose day-old beard now shadows the Facebook profile. I believe we had first met in summer camp, and then, later, were in Hebrew School together. We must have been eight or nine when we met. Look at us now, jobs, kids, ex-spouses. We’re all growed up.

As I find moments of recollection in my hazy memories of him—a boy who could barely stay seated, who broke ranks in our single-file lines, who was rowdy but friendly, and mischievous as a trickster—I find memories of me. Little blinks of details among wide swaths of mood.

There’s the nail polish I painted on at the bus stop and removed as soon as I got home from school. It was brown, the one color I thought my mother wouldn’t notice missing among her bottles of fuscias and reds. I’d have rathered pink, but thieves can’t be choosy, and even brown was still polish, a thing I wasn’t permitted but so desperately wanted. There’s the milk shake I purchased nearly every day from the middle school cafeteria. I was afraid it would make me fat, make me fat being the phrase I learned from countless sources, and seemed to be everyone’s worst fear. I didn’t develop the discipline for starvation until high school, and in eighth grade they had vanilla and chocolate on alternating days, colored green for St. Patrick’s Day and orange for Halloween. I sipped them till my throat froze and the guilt, or was it shame, slinked off for another day.

There was the nose-wrinkling frog dissection in biology that was, for me in middle school, ever-so-slightly more fascinating than disgusting; the show tunes medley we played for the band concert in cents-off accidental harmony; the drowsy speeches during the eighth grade graduation ceremony, only memorable because someone called my name to come to the stage for an award, and the boy sitting beside me elbowed me awake.

ariellesilver - picIn these days since reconnecting with my old classmate, I find myself looking at my own photos, and wondering about memories. Where do those of my younger self reside? How do they influence me now? Do I take pink polish, or do I still steal off with my second choice, just a hint of what I truly desire? Do I still battle conflicts between shake-like desires and disordered popular opinion? Do I hear the middle school clarinet pitches in the squeal of the Amtrak brakes? Do I ever catch a hint of that particular formaldehyde-laced biology classroom?

Half of writing is remembering. Our memories tie us to our senses and feelings, to the very essence of being human. The internal drumbeat of emotional experience. The waft of sensory input. Somehow, the two dimensions of a word on a page expands this physical life beyond the limits of here and now.

A stranger who reached out on Facebook connected my adult self to the child I used to be, but writing brought me to my mother’s nail polish shelf, the middle school cafeteria, the cacophony of trumpets and clarinets. Sometimes it feels like the present and the past are cents-off accidental harmony. Information from the past combined with writing in the present helps to reveal through-melodies. Memory is the touchstone for a full human moment on the page.

– – –

Arielle Silver daylights in the music industry, moonlights as a yoga teacher, and sunrises as a candidate for her MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Literary Translation at Antioch University Los Angeles. She serves on the editorial team at Lunch Ticket, her songs have been licensed internationally, and her essays have appeared in Moment and RoleReboot. She’s on Twitt/Insta/Face and at www.ariellesilver.com.

 

(photo credit: Brain Anatomy Hoop Art via photopin (license))

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Writing the World, Sight Unseen

By Kerry Kijewski

I am admitting my mistake here and now. I did what I swore I’d never do. I was thoughtless and careless enough to have a drink next to my precious laptop. Yes, I swore I would never do that because my laptop is how I reach out, express myself, and how I’m given a voice.

KerryNowI knew the truth, deep down, but as long as I didn’t ask the computer repair shop the final fate of my Macbook, I could live in the hope that all was not lost. I was given the verdict. The key to my self-expression was gone. It was no one else’s fault but my own.

My blog has been the only place I have to speak up on everything I felt I needed to say. I could also surf the Internet, and anything I ever needed to know I could learn at the push of a few single key strokes.

It felt like I had lost a limb. Okay, so those who have literally lost an arm or a leg might not agree, but living without sight, a laptop gave me back a lot of what I was missing for so long. I couldn’t simply pick up a pen and paper, like people have done long before the invention of the modern technology we’ve all come to depend on. I had no real way to release all the thoughts and the feelings I had inside. Immediately I missed writing my blog, something I had been doing regularly, at least once or twice a week, for the last year or more.

I found myself taking out my old, heavy-duty Perkins Brailler, my own version of a pen and pad of paper. As I returned to this relic of days gone by, to write the rough draft of this guest post, I thought long and hard about what it meant to be without the tool I had come to rely on so, so much. It is a miracle that I have these options for expressing myself. Without them, I don’t know where I would be or what I’d do. Still, it’s a reminder of the ways I compensate for being a writer who doesn’t have sight.

Kerry6yearsI used to see colour, bright and distinctive: blues, greens, red, and yellow. I saw the faces of my friends and family and the large print on the page. Over the years, as I began to switch from loving to draw to loving to write, I slowly lost this acuity. Now I am left to imagine, in as much detail as possible, all that I no longer see like everyone else. I think back to what those details looked like, and I try and I try to incorporate that into my writing.

Always though, at the back of my mind and sometimes at the front of it, I worry that my writing will be lacking something important, something that any readers of mine will immediately notice, that they won’t be able to live without. I fear I won’t be able to provide a well-rounded sensory experience. I can try my hardest to include details of a character’s physical features or the expression in someone’s eyes or a smile on his or her lips. I can imagine how that might look, and I can give it my best, but still not do those things justice.

I fear it will be automatically obvious, as someone is reading, that I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. A fraud, that’s the word for it. I am an impostor, someone who thinks they can fool any unsuspecting reader, as if I know what I’m describing, when really I am grasping at distant recollections of what I used to know. I try to focus on what I can contribute. I know how to write about emotions and feelings. Is that enough to build a story on? How can I give my reading audience a full experience, worth their time and attention?

I can write about the tone of someone’s voice or the way it feels when a loved one reaches out with a comforting hand – I can write about how a summer breeze tickles the cheek; or how the spring air smells after it rains; or how fresh strawberries taste on the tongue.

Are these things enough? Is it worth my time and energy, describing a look or an expression, when these no longer come naturally to my own colourless, dim and faded memory? These things are ghostly imprints of what was once there.

The timing of spilling that sticky liquid all over my precious laptop seemed horrible and yet, it forced me to face not being able to say what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. It also made me think more about the ways I adapt to my situation and how I manage to say all that I wish to say anyway.

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Kerry is a lover of books and of the written word. She was born blind, but writing helps her to see life just a little more clearly. She writes fiction, memoir, movie and music reviews, interviews with interesting people, and travel articles on her blog, Her Headache. To Kerry, life is often one giant headache, both painful and beautiful. She has a Certificate of Creative Writing and lives in Ontario, Canada, with her literary-themed dog and cat: Dobby and Lumos.

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