Saturday, November 16, 2013

Stations of the Breath - Interlude (a Mea Culpa)

Continued from parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five.


 There's a voice someplace that says Just finish it and let it be done and something else telling me Context, above all. History outside of context might just as well be fiction.
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 I'm in a writing workshop near the end of university; let's call it 1991 or '92. I remember the room in an office space in downtown Toronto. I can't quite remember if it was a simply a staging area in my fourth year (which would have made me a York student) or the standard, bricks-and-mortar location for such things (which would have made it a University of Toronto course, where I finished my degree). I had written a piece that echoed an incident in Part Five of the series you're reading now, to wit:

I talked to Zoe a few days after the break and don't want to remember it the way that I do. She didn't look good. She was sitting at her locker in a third floor hallway and looked like she'd been crying...I noticed that her wrists were skinny again; I realized I didn't remember when they had looked normal. 

There were over 10 people in the course; I don't know why this sentiment (if not the exact wording) caught the attention of one of my classmates. But during the let's-discuss-it section of the evening, she latched on to that particular incident with an enthusiasm (for want of a better term) that I've never forgotten. The following exchange is as verbatim as I can recall between myself and a woman I'll call Lindsay:

You knew she was going to kill herself because of her wrists, that's why you've pointed it out?
 
 No. I just remember seeing her wrists like that.

You remember that by itself? Separate of  everything else that happened afterwards?

Yes. Otherwise, I wouldn't have mentioned it.

You didn't remember them after the fact?

I...anybody who remembers anything remembers it after the fact. I don't know what you're trying to suggest.

I'm just saying you wouldn't have (she used 'air quotes here) 'remembered' her wrists unless she killled herself, would you?

I hate to disappoint you, but yes. I would remember it. I just wouldn't have any reason to point it out after the fact.

How so?

I don't know what you're...

I'm not calling you a liar, Michael. I'm just saying that you might be putting undo emphasis on something you remember, rather that what you saw.

I...sorry. I can't agree.

This doesn't make you bad, Michael, it...

I don't think it does. That's your term.

You don't need to be oversensitive, I'm just...

 I hope I'm not being oversensitive, but can I suggest something?

Of course.

I don't remember the way she wore her hair that day. But I know she was wearing jeans. I'd seen that pair before, they were flared at the ankle which was a bit weird for the time. If I'd written that she was wearing a green sweater with floppy cuffs, would you accept that?

I don't know what you're...

If I'd written about the colour and style of what Zoe was wearing that day, would you be bringing up the same point about what I did or did not remember?

I don't want you to be defensive...

I hope I'm not.

I just think it's a lot to remember, especially putting such emphasis on her wrists.

Okay. I can't argue that. But I do know that her wrists were of no interest to me outside of that that moment. I just knew I'd seen them less-skinny before, but I didn't remember when. Maybe after the summer where everyone looks good when you're back to school. None of this matters to me now, or particularily then. I didn't think she was going to die because her wrists looked skinny. I just remember remember thinking about it at the time, before she killed herself.

Well, I can't tell you if you're wrong or right. I just think that you might want to think about it.

Fair enough. But I need to know what what you're trying to say.

I think you might want to think about what you've written.

What does that mean?

Just think about it.

Alright. (pause) I think I want you to explain that a little more.

I already have.

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That particular writing class broke up a few minutes later. Lindsay apologized to me for what she called her 'tone' in a sort of way that suggested she had a certain degree of pity for those who disagreed with her. I shrugged it off at the time but never forgot the exchange.

For the record; I can only report what I remember, and not exactly unrepentantly at that. I know what I saw and can bear witness. Have I considered that I might be wrong, or inaccurate, or misleading, or simply not the person to report what happened? Yes. Not often over 30 years or so, but very acutely from time to time.

Everything that follows stems from the realization that not everything matters, but everything happens. To complicate matters further, there's another muttering from someplace deep and (usually) much more quiet, perhaps a mantra instead of literary criticism. A simple reminder to be honest in all recollections. Anything less would be a desecration.


Continued in Part Six


2 comments:

patti said...

I'm mildly irritated on your behalf at that exchange. I don't know what to do with veiled suggestions that I should "know" something, and that someone else "knows" better than I do what I am trying to say or remember or write. If you know more, tell me. If you don't - um - zip it.

Your memories are yours to have and share (or not); without imposing other people's meanings on them.

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