Category: books

on remembering, on forgetting

May 28th, 2010 — 12:11pm

Student of memory.  I remember some things and have forgotten others.  Louise Erdrich, Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Driving home yesterday, I was wishing I was better at remembering. Remembering everything. Foreign languages, cranial nerves, the names of my friends’ siblings, and just the regular details of living.

I was thinking about the stories old couples tell. I love hearing them recount how they met fifty years ago, the hard times they went through together, the funny thing that happened that random day so long ago. I wish I could remember all the details of my life like that. I know they don’t remember everything, and their retellings likely change with time, but I am still amazed at the minutia they can conjure up. I was thinking as I drove, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to remember everything? To be able to tell those stories to your grandkids, so they could learn how you “knew it was right,” how you got where you are, and all that other good stuff. But I already feel like I’ve forgotten so much. So many of my memories are already hazy. I’ve never been terribly confident in my memory.

Really, we are our memories. All we are is what we remember. If every day, we forgot everything we knew from the day before, we’d never survive. I mean literally. We wouldn’t be able to do anything—walk, eat, talk. What we remember makes us who we are.

There in my car, wishing I could remember everything better, this quote from my favorite book came to mind: “Student of memory. I remember some things and have forgotten others.” I’ve always loved that. Something about it just feels right. It’s calming. And sitting there at a stoplight, I realized it’s ok to forget some things. If we are what we remember, I’m glad I’ve forgotten some things. I thought of this woman I saw on a show a while back (coincidentally, I can’t remember what show) who remembered everything she ever saw. It wasn’t just a photographic memory. She actually remembered everything. She said it was a curse. To never have traumatizing memories fade? To never be able to quiet your mind? I hadn’t ever considered it before then, but it seems being able to forget is a blessing.

I am a student of memory. I forget some things and remember others. I learn from the things I keep. I just hope the things I remember and the things I forget are the right ones. And I hope the things I remember stay in tact in my mind for a long, long time to come. (And I hope the material from my anatomy class stays in tact at least one more week… long enough to pass my last two exams.)

2 comments » | books, hopes, quotes, what's inside

my sunday evening quotes

February 7th, 2010 — 11:29pm

I’m feeling the urge for some Sunday evening quotes again. Too bad by the time I’m finally posting this, they’re not really “evening” quotes anymore… more like “ridiculously late Sunday night/early Monday morning” quotes. Ah well. Here are two that jumped out at me tonight as I fanned through my quote book.

I recovered my immense will to live when I realized that the meaning of my life was the one I had chosen for it.  Paul Coelho

Life, wrote a friend of mine, is a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along. E.M. Forster

I didn’t remember until just a minute ago that I quoted this E.M. Forster line in an old post on an old blog from what feels like an impossibly long time ago.  It seems appropriate that the same quote that affected me then—as I first started plowing through this funk—affects me now, years later, as I’m finally emerging from it. I have a very different feeling about this quote now, though. It’s somehow more comforting and less ominous than it was then.

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my sunday evening quotes

March 22nd, 2009 — 4:03pm

I don’t have much to say today (I know, I know… don’t die of shock), so I thought instead of me blathering on, I’d just leave a few quotes here for you to do with as you like. It’s okay if they mean nothing to you, but for me—for where I am in my unpredictable, uncharted, and moderately insane life—these words mean a great deal.

There was only time. For what is a man, what are we all, but bits of time caught for a moment in a tangle of blood, bones, skin, and brain? ...We are time's containers. Time pours into us and then pours out again.  In between the two pourings we live our destiny.  -Louise Erdrich, Four Souls

let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. it will not lead you astray. -rumi

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a life of radiohead and pi

February 24th, 2009 — 2:57pm

Man, Radiohead really has a way of making everything feel so serious and dismal. I’m sitting here with “OK Computer” playing in the background and find myself slowly feeling increasingly pensive… angsty… empowered… insignificant… perceptive… misled… all at once. Weird. Especially because most of those feelings are contradictory. Maybe it’s time to switch to Spice Girls or something that doesn’t make me feel like Armageddon is upon us in t-minus-thirteen seconds. Crazy how my mood is so affected by music.

Anyway, I recently finished reading Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, and it’s been on my mind a lot. Overall, I really liked it. I was planning on writing something about my impressions of the book now, but Radiohead has sapped the life out of me, so that’s not going to happen. I’m a huge fan of good quotes, though, and while reading I tend to mark up the margins around passages I find particularly likable. So in that spirit, here are just a few of the quotes that got the lucky mark of my red pen next to them. (For the sake of your attention span, I pared it down to six quotes, but believe me, I started with a lot more than this.)

Note: I’m not giving away any huge plot lines here, but if you’re a purist like me and hate knowing anything about books/movies/plays before experiencing them for yourself, look away now!

Words of divine consciousness: …a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes one as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; …a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.

But we should not cling! A plague upon fundamentalists and literalists!

There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless. …These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.

Why can’t reason give greater answers? Why can we throw a question further than we can pull in an answer? Why such a vast net if there’s so little fish to catch?

I must say a word about fear. It’s life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy.

…Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation… nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.

“If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn’t love hard to believe?”
“Mr. Patel—”
“Don’t you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

I feel like that’s a good question for me right now. What’s the problem with “hard to believe”? Life is hard to believe, really. It’s amazing that any of us are here. This question makes me realize that I take many leaps of faith every day without balking. Belief is at the base of everything, isn’t it? Maybe faith is only hard when I decide to trip over it.

It seems this was a good book for me right now. It was an easy read that managed to be soul-stirring without taking itself too seriously. Plus, I liked Martel’s narrative voice. Although the story seemed to drag in places, the dragging never lasted long, and his voice kept me engaged until the story piqued my attention again. I definitely give it a place on my “Recommendable Books” list.

P.S. Lest you be misled, I really do like Radiohead.

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free indeed

January 8th, 2009 — 2:09pm

It is feelings like this that I most want to hold on to but am least able to maintain. Feelings like this are the most fleeting.

It’s a feeling born of the warm, persistent press of the sunlight on my skin despite the chill in the air; the crunching snow underfoot as the sun stakes out its place in the sky; the lilting song of birds and the strong scent of evergreen pouring from a towering fir tree. Such a giant of a tree—it’s a wonder that it has escaped my attention until now. I stop and gaze up and can’t even see the top.

And suddenly, or not-so-suddenly, I’m filled with peace and clarity. I feel realistically optimistic about the future. (Realistically optimistic? It’s amazing that such a feeling exists.) I can clearly see a path laid out in front of me. And what’s more, I don’t feel afraid to start walking down it.

The thing is, I’ve had these fantastically exultant moments before… and so I know that they pass. They pass, and I’m left with life-as-usual once again, trudging through the problems of the day (most of which are problems of my own making). My view of the road ahead becomes obscured again with my doubts, my second-guesses, my mistakes.

But I’m not pointing this out to be a pessimist. Not this time, anyway. I’m pointing this out because this time, I think I understand this feeling better.

Thank goodness for these moments of clarity, these times when the world feels so full of lighted windows and open doors. These moments are exactly the kick in the pants that I need to continue on even when the world turns dark again. The feeling may be gone, but the memory that I had it remains. There’s a “white ring of mineral ash left after the water has boiled away,”* which serves as a real reminder that hope can be constant even while my feelings vacillate between contentment and desperation.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.
-Kahlil Gibran

So for now, I get it. I recognize it may not be as easy for me to grasp next week, or maybe even tomorrow. But for now, I get it, and I’m holding on.

*another quote from Louise Erdrich’s Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

1 comment » | books, hopes, quotes, the great outdoors, what's inside

we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams

January 2nd, 2009 — 7:50pm

(the title is from a line of an Arthur O’Shaughnessy poem, which was subsequently borrowed by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.)

I don’t know where the time goes when I sit at the piano.  It feels like the clock freezes for me but not the rest of the world.  I swear there’s a parallel reality that exists when my fingers are touching the keys, and only after I manage to wrench myself from that world do I find that hours and hours have passed when I thought no time had passed at all.

When I peeled myself away from the keyboard today, my mind stumbled clumsily across a vague memory… a few passages I once marked on the pages of some book or another.  I pulled a couple of my favorite books off the shelf and started sifting through the pages until my restless memory felt satisfied.

This is from Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, where the character Agnes, who had been suffering from some form of amnesia, finally regains the knowledge that she is a talented and passionate pianist:

She stood in the entrance to the new church one afternoon, regarding the placement of the piano with an uneasy, critical eye.  Later, she was sure it was the long summer light, the full golden quality of afternoon light that wakened her hands and set them moving about more restlessly than they had for some time. …The key to the keyboard was hidden in the piano’s odd claw foot.  An aperture behind a toe.  Suddenly, Agnes bent and removed the key.  She then opened the keyboard.  All of a sudden there it was, the notes spread out before her in the slant light of afternoon, the discolored ivories of the sad keys gaping at her, the breath of the thing sighing out like an animal.

There was a small brown bench Sister Hildegarde had found and placed before the creature.  Agnes sat, adjusted the distance, and watched the keys carefully.  Nothing happened.  There was nothing to be afraid of, after all, except that her hands sprang out of her sleeves.  Then they jumped off her lap like claws and crashed down in an astonishing chord. She clutched her hands to her chest.  The sound reverberated.  With a soft and, she feared, insane longing, her hands crept forward again.  This time, quite movingly, they brushed the keys in the secret contradictory melody that opens the Pathetique.  Her hands moved on and on.  She crouched over the keyboard in amazed concentration and played, or allowed herself to be played by, the music that had racked her inside and struggled for release.  …As her hands assembled and disassembled their patterns of old harmony and counterharmony, the mystery of their motions became entirely sensible.  She understood the intricate purpose of [this] language….  Music poured out in a rational waterfall.

Time passed, or no time passed.  Absorbed in the rush of knowing, Agnes felt eyes watching.  Perhaps children, she thought, unable in her awed greed to quit.  Or one of the sisters, or an Ojibwe curious or gripped by longing.  She played in the embrace of that special sense of being heard, that expectancy, but when she finally set her hands in her lap and looked up to acknowledge the listener, no one was there.  Only the still new leaves faintly twitching between the studs and the haze of gold light through the tremulous scatter of clouds.

And from E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, about Lucy Honeychurch’s love for the piano:

It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano.  She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave.  The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected.  The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marveling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions….

[Lucy] was no dazzling exécutant; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation.  Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer’s evening with the window open.  Passion was there, but it could not be easily labeled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style.  And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory.  Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us.  But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy decided that they should triumph.

A very wet afternoon at [Lucy's hotel] permitted her to do the thing she really liked, and after lunch she opened the little draped piano.  A few people lingered round and praised her playing, but finding that she made no reply, dispersed to their rooms to write up their diaries or to sleep. …Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes; they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone did she come to her desire.

Mr. Beebe, sitting unnoticed in the window, pondered over this illogical element in Miss Honeychurch…. [He remarked to Lucy] when she closed the little piano and moved dreamily towards him: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting—both for us and for her.”

I don’t imagine that I play with much skill or accuracy, or even that it’s enjoyable for others to listen to me, but playing fills me such a release that my inadequacy has never bothered me much.  Playing brings me to a strangely ephemeral yet “more solid world” where “time passes, or no time passes” and my mistakes are okay.  It’s where my worries melt neatly away, where reality looks beautiful, and where I begin to believe that I may one day find the courage to live with passion.  What an exhilarating notion.

1 comment » | books, quirks, quotes, what's inside

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