Thursday, April 19, 2012
I Remember When . . . Or Do I?
In her essay “To Fashion a Text,” Annie Dillard says that “if you spend a week or two laying out a scene or describing an event [when writing memoir], you’ve spent more time writing about it than you did living it. The writing time is also much more intensive. After you’ve written,” she says, “you can no longer remember anything but the writing.”
How curious that the writing of a memory should reduce to ashes the experience that sparked it. The memory itself becomes codified, recorded in a fixed form, and more “real” than the original experience. Yet how much, by its very nature, is the recorded memory the product of conscious or unconscious embellishment or even forgetfulness? Is it ever possible to recall a moment with absolute fidelity to the facts of what had actually happened? Or must recall necessarily be flawed, imperfect, a mere rendering at most?
The writer Susan Richards Shreve says, “So much of memory comes from the beginning of our lives when we know the world for the first time with a kind of clarity.” I think the immediacy of impression that first experience stamps upon our consciousness can provide this “clarity,” searing it into our memory.
Why else would I recall so vividly now, more than fifty years later, walking up the ramp to the loge level at Yankee Stadium as a boy and spying for the first time the vibrant green grass of the field? In our world of black-and-white TV I had only ever known it as gray. It was a world in which everything on the screen—from Gunsmoke to The Flintstones—was white or black or shades of gray, as if we were watching photo negatives come to life.
But oh, that grass! I had never seen such green, and I was taken aback by its sudden vibrant appearance when it came into view as I walked up the ramp. I realized at once what I had been missing. Even today I recall the “immediacy” of that first impression with searing clarity and entirely without embellishment.
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