Some people have photographic memories. I’m not one of them. But lately I’ve learned how to remember things that seemed lost forever.
Writing is a great tool for plumbing the mind. Once I start writing about something, no matter how distant the memory is, details begin to surface. I hear long-forgotten voices, and remember the look of a room. Sometimes I can recall the words someone said…or at least I think I can.
It’s like singing a forgotten song: If you get the first line, the rest of the song pours out.
Despite this, in Some Way Outa Here, I had to fill in a lot of detail with my imagination when memory failed. I thought a lot about people who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it gave me an opportunity to try to better understand them.
One of my characters, Evelyn, is based on someone who I knew as a co-conspirator and mentor. She was 15 years older than me, and more than 15 years wiser. I learned a lot from her.
Evelyn was a lot more complicated than I understood at the time. I remember her voice and her smile very clearly, and she told me things that I can still recall well. But why was she often so sad? I didn’t really know, and I could only recount her words, write about what she did, and describe her persona.
I lost touch with Evelyn and didn’t see her after 1976. Recently I discovered that she passed away a few years ago, and I was able to get in touch with her daughter. We had a long correspondence, and she described some of the demons her mother faced during her life, things I didn’t see or understand at the time. But I discovered that my recounting of Evelyn fit pretty well with the drama in her life that I wasn’t privy to. It gave me confidence that I was, in fact, able to draw the essence of a character by reimagining the details of conversations and events.
My book is full of these reimaginings. Is it really a memoir when liberties are taken in recounting events and people? To me, breathing new life into old memories, done in good faith, is a way of capturing the essence long gone places and long-unseen people. It may reveal more about the writer than the characters, but isn’t that what storytelling always does?
So far, my readers-from-the-past seem to be OK with it.
I’m curious how people’s memories match reality when we meet up with old friends. Have you reconnected with old friends lately?