Monday, February 28, 2011

A Book of Moments

I've been thinking a lot over the last year about a new kind of memoir, one that probably won't sell to big presses because it lacks the boring / typical narrative arc of a standard book. I'm too much of a poet, too much of a short story reader, too underwhlemed by the vast list of inane memoirs, and too in love with the possibility of metaphor to set us up for something more.

During the day, and after waking up, I remember moments--as most of us do. Today something, perhaps a smell, taste, or texture, reminded me of how I used to unwind and straighten out the fringed edges of my family's living room rug as I was growing up. I'd be laying on my back, feet propped up in front of the fireplace, enjoying an after-dinner coma. There's nothing unique about the event, but it evokes a feeling, one that only a lyrical piece might be able to evoke and translate.

But there are other moments, too. Ants climbing the rough bark of an oak tree. Fish scales clinging to fingers. The smell of a recliner. Snow falling late at night that almost makes the air warmer.

We go through life absorbing ghosts, reflection and refraction of how we interpret the world. And they are lost almsot instantly, some, if we are lucky, flashing back to life once or twice at some point decades later. Maybe it's nostalgia, or fear, or desperation (all the same thing?), but what if a person could gather dozens of these into a book? Would a narrative begin to form? What would take shape between the images, like mortar in the groove?

I don't know if it's silly or boring or just too surrealist, but maybe I'll start trying to journal these, collect them as they come up. If you don't write things down, they vanish without a trace. Maybe that's how photographers feel, musicians even, lovers. A moment that lingers has touched something in you to the core, beyond a sensorial level. Something deep has changed, been stretched or exploded or remade, and only the sensorial can lead you to it again. That's why scent and touch are powerful gateways to memory. Writing? Words? Echoes of echoes, perhaps. Gardens?

6 comments:

Elephant's Eye said...

Dozens of ghosts, gathered, then woven in a pattern, in a book? Yes. Isn't that Proust's immortal madeleine? (I haven't read it, but it is much quoted)

Benjamin Vogt said...

It's Proust something. Maybe someday it'll be Vogt something....

Canyon Girl said...

Barbee recommended you on her blog and since she is the person who has encouraged me to write and blog, I wanted to visit you. And I am so glad I did, because now you have got me going, thinking about what you wrote here. I think we remember like that, but no one thought to write a memoir along those lines before. I'm 70 now, and I don't like to look back much on events, but looking back on the textures of my life would be a whole different thing.--Inger

Benjamin Vogt said...

CG--Glad you found me, and I'm flattered Barbee sent you my way. Shoot, I thought I said some cool things in this post that just popped into my head as I wrote it (can I say that and not sound arrogant?)--that's why I love writing, nothing else in life surprises me with such delight. Well, the garden is a close second, but still, it had much more structure than most writing.

Stacy said...

If I read you right, it sounds a bit like Masters' "Spoon River Anthology," or ...'s "Winesburg, Ohio." (Sorry, I'm too sleepy to look up the writer!)--a collection of impressions that acquire narrative strength by being put next to one another, much like life's moments. I remember trying to convince people that a genuine biography would take as long to read as it took the life to live - if it took any less than that, then the "editor" was picking and choosing, and from then on, it was all art.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Stacy--And it's a lot like how poetry collections are put together, which is certainly how I for oen see life--images, stills, moments that resonate and reflect and refract each other. There is no linear time, and there is no past or future. Everything is present. From then on it's all art, as you say nicely!