Sunday, March 25, 2007

On Memory, Part 2

The premise of this post is that we all have a story. I find myself wanting to collect the bits of stories that are a part of my past and my family's past and humanity's past. Then I'm not quite sure what to do with them.

Ironically, my reading lately has spoken to this very thought.

“There were other parts of the tale that none of them would be able to piece together, of course, for some of the narrative had been lost, some of it had been purposely forgotten.”
-Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, page 31

It is hard for me to accept losing the narrative. Love of story takes over my brain and I wonder if forgetting (or not telling) our narratives is ever a good thing. The most poetic moments of life are found tucked into the small details.

This is a theme that I keep coming across in the books I’m reading. I just need to throw it out there…to use typing as a means of processing. Just know that these thoughts may not be coherent; they may just pose more questions.

“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, page 1.

Not being paralyzed by one’s past is a good thing. Moving forward with courage is admirable. Perhaps this asserts a freedom that allows people to truly live. The pattern I’ve noticed in myself is that I remember nostalgically—somehow a lot of the pain has faded. Bitterness and the inability to forgive trap the present and the future with the past.

“Ashes have no weight, they tell no secrets, they rise too lightly for guilt; too lightly for gravity, they float upward and, thankfully, disappear.
These years were blurry for many, and when they came out of them, exhausted, the whole world had changed, there were gaps in everything—what had happened in their own families, what had happened elsewhere, what filth had occurred like an epidemic everywhere in the world that was now full of unmarked graves—they didn’t look, because they couldn’t afford to examine the past. They had to grasp the future with everything they had.
One true thing Jemubhai had learned: the human heart can be transformed into anything. It was possible to forget if not essential to do so.” –Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss, page 338.

Here are my questions: If we forget everything that was bad, how can we shape the future? If I see pain and then forget about it, how can I help it cease? If we, as a people, forget what we know has happened, does that help us move forward? Is it different for individuals versus the collective? Can we move on from hurt, but still gain from the scars?

I am haunted by that excerpt from The Inheritance of Loss on so many levels: personally, globally, spiritually. I guess the idea of the human heart being transformed into anything is a scary thought. I kind of think that’s why it’s important to remember. Aye.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Top O the Mornin'

Today’s post is dedicated to a few things:

1. The huge window I am writing in front of…especially after a week of being sick and feeling trapped in the natural light-less bedroom and living room I occupy.
2. The Irish

About a month back, Julie and I downloaded quite a bit of Irish music after watching the fine movie “Waking Ned Devine” and reminiscing about the perfect night we spent in Dublin at the Temple Bar, listening to 3 sets of traditional Irish music with locals and tourists, Guinness and Bailey’s, clapping and laughter. I played these songs for my sweet roommates yesterday morning, the day of my people, and danced until we had to leave. To my excitement, the dj at the wedding reception we attended had the good sense to bring the Irish spirit to the dance floor. It may be true that there were all of 4 of us taking advantage, but still. The air was also filled with musical gems from Donna Summer, Paul Simon, Gnarls, Justin and Nelly as well, which lent itself to a celebration with old friends that any Irish would have appreciated.

It was no surprise that the spirit of Ireland was still with me this morning, so as I was writing I listened to “Appalachia Waltz,” an album where Yo Yo Ma, Mark O’Conner and Edgar Meyer combined their talents in tribute to American mountain music. I think that this is common knowledge, but I have my “History and Culture of Appalachia” class senior year at Miami to thank: the roots of American mountain music are found in the folk songs of the countries people left behind. This is what I actually want to write about today. Before you read on, I strongly suggest you download (seriously) the following two versions of the traditional Irish song “Star of the County Down:”

1. performed by Emerald Rose on the Celtic Crescent album, a common version similar to what you might hear in an Irish pub
2. performed by Yo Yo Ma, Mark O’Conner and Edgar Meyer on the Appalachia Waltz album that I mentioned earlier

I have spent a good bit of time dancing and laughing to the traditional version of “Star of the County Down.” It is the essence of laughter with friends. My further confessions are as follows: I have attending a “Britsh Isles Festival” in rural Ohio, coveted Julie’s “Ireland Forever” shirt. I am a direct descendant of the proudest Irishman I have ever come across. I have memories of my grandfather playing songs like this one while driving us around in his pickup truck, pretending to hate it along with my brother and cousins, but secretly loving my family’s heritage. My brother and I have outgrown making it a secret. In fact, he sent me a text message just the other day: “And goddamn I love being Irish!” This is the essence of the traditional version. You can’t help but want to dance and laugh.

The Appalachia Waltz version is a completely different story—literally. This story comes from an old Irishman remembering home. His melody is mournful as if his very heart is being pierced by the memory of family and friends and laughter. The intensity increases as the memories are lying on his heart, too heavy to ignore; he can do nothing but let them run through his veins and feel the intense beauty of it all. Toward the end his notes lift a bit, with closed eyes and a quietly smiling mouth; fully aware of his inability to cross the mountains and the ocean and rejoin that original song. But I picture him. Sitting, rocking; steeping in the fullness of home.

The window I am in front of right now gives me a view of sunlight and sky, a commodity in my life. I am not completely fooled, though; a 40-story building and industrial Jersey wave to me from across the way. My westward gaze is not toward what many would call grand, but its smell of soil and corn and wild flowers by the creek haunt my mind nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007


Every now and then, even an English teacher feels that paragraphs are just too much.

List One: I feel compelled to share the reason for my prolonged absence. The reasons include, but are not limited to:
1. The pile on my desk that had 90 literary essays, 90 book responses and 90 memoirs all written by my darling 12 year olds.
2. My inability to ever say no to anything. (I have made progress on this, hence the reason I am writing this now.)
3. A roommate transition here at 90 W.
4. The planning involved in teaching the youth how to read and write well. (Meaning remembering to capitalize names. Seriously.)

List Two: Things that have happened today to allow me to write even this post:
1. Skipped basketball practice.
2. Skipped book club.
3. Skipped X rays.
4. (Regretfully but necessarily) skipped dinner with a dear friend.

List Three: Joys of this evening:
1. Getting the last of the literary essays graded.
2. Grading 30 of the book responses.
3. Making a real dinner.
4. Listening to "All at Sea" on repeat (yes, Jamie Cullum. yes, I love it) and wishing I were on a plane to Ireland.
5. Talking to one of my best friends from high school about my trip to the great state of Ohio this weekend!

That's all I got. If you are looking for something literary and/or deep, you will have to wait a little longer. I'm not short on ideas, just time.