Saturday, June 9, 2007

Memory and story.

I've been horrible about keeping up with my short story reading. I've only made it three stories deep into Tim O'Brien's collection, The Things They Carried. I remember though, reading a couple of his short stories in high school, and also how surprised I was because my brother read it for school too, and he actually read the whole thing (my brother was never much of a reader). In any case, I like it, but I keep trying to read it right before I sleep, when I'm super tired, so that's why it's taking me so long to get through it.

The one thing I find interesting about his collection is that, it's supposed to be this work of fiction, based on his experiences, but he talks about himself in the first person, mentions he's a writer, and even dedicates the book to the people mentioned in here. So I find myself constantly wondering what part is fact and what part is fiction.

Anyway, last night I read the third story, "Spin" which really, is a story about memory and story. This idea of all these stories tied in with your memory.

I don't want to spend too much time talking about this, but I just thought I'd highlight the couple of passages in which he talks about memory and story:

I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I'm still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it's an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. In a way, I guess, she's right: I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for awhile, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That's the real obsession. All those stories.
--[pg. 34-35, The Things They Carried]


It's interesting how he talks about this issue, and then brings in all these little mini-vignettes, snapshots of memories that stay in his mind, little stories he could have run with and blown up bigger, but doesn't. He lets them be what it is, but it doesn't diminish the fact that they exist. In fact, "Spin" isn't really a story, but just that - his memories and material just hanging loosely there. A rumination of bits and pieces and images from his past. Isn't that how we as writers start anything? Just a little bit of something. A snapshot that grabs us. An incident that we can't forget. An emotion that was too strong to let go. And like he said, then we pick the one that compels us to go for the ride.

Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.
--[pg. 38, The Things They Carried]


Why do we write? Why are we compelled? Sometimes it may just be as simple as telling a tale that needs to be told, and hoping to immortalize it.

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