Archive for memory

Lurching, Fragmented Time

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 7

We are home, in Patchogue, safe and sound, and Honey and Scout celebrated by sniffing every single blade of grass, individually, and thus gathering the latest news of the canine population of Fair Harbor.

It’s good to be home, and I feel as though some of the anxiety I’ve been attributing to the dissertation defense has lifted, and was, maybe, due more to moving home (and carting all my stuff back to Patchogue) than I realized.

But now. Now I can concentrate on the defense.

All day, in the back of my mind, I’ve been trying to think of questions that the committee might ask me, and I can’t think of any. In fact, I can’t even think of what my dissertation is really about right now. This, I guess, is its own form of  jitters. So, I’m going to reread the damn thing for the millionth time and appease my anxiety by memorizing names of theorists which will virtually guarantee that no one asks me about a theorist–because that is how my attempts at studying usually go. I will plan speeches in my head, and recite them in my sleep, and no one will ask me questions to which those speeches will be appropriate responses. And the defense will be something completely other than my imaginings. But I will follow my process nonetheless.

One thing I do want to be prepared to talk about is where I want to go next with this research, what my plans are, where I see the ideas going, that sort of thing. I was asked this question during the defense of my MA thesis, and I said, rather inappropriately, that the only thing I planned to do with my thesis and all of the background research was to have a big bonfire. I suspect that this answer, genuine though it was at the time, will not fly in this go around.

The truth is I have only vague notions of where I want to go with this. I want this published. This dissertation. Exactly as it is, if possible, which of course it won’t be. But after that? After that I think I want to write about my dad. This project centers so much on my dad and his stories and family and memory; it seems logical, or necessary even, to write about my father’s memory as he loses it, to write about the peculiarities of what he loses and when, and what he remembers, and how his mind seems to be working, and to examine my own visceral, inchoate reactions to all of this, which, to be honest, are not always the most compassionate or helpful.

For example:

When my father thinks my mother is his sister, I want to let that situation play itself out. I want, somehow, a glimpse of my father’s relationship with his sister, as though I could see that through his confusion about my mother. When my father thinks we are in the house on E. 2nd, I want him to describe it to me, every detail–the sounds of the trolleys on MacDonald Avenue, the temperature of the room, my grandfather’s mood, the fabric on the sofa, the scent of the breeze moving the curtains on the front windows, his sisters’ voices in the background.

I am sick and twisted. And while my father’s brain may be lurching back and forth, unwillingly, through time, dementia is not a time machine.

But. But, but, but.

Time is a series of discourses that structure both self perception and perceptions of others. We never really go back or forward but use memory and prediction to write narratives that are self fulfilling, self justifying, self accusing, or self abusing. The past is never past and the future is always beyond our grasp.

What happens when we look at my father’s memory through this lens? When we look at dementia? Or any normal, healthy memory? What happens when we are using memory to write ourselves, and memory is failing, physically, beyond all of the ways in which I’ve already talked about memory failing in theory?

We Built This City (Or, the Happy Side of Deconstruction)

Posted in Small Epiphanies with tags , , , , , on December 1, 2012 by chateaucone

Small Epiphanies: December 1

When I was little and my dad was putting me to bed, we’d kneel and pray. I’d pray for Jaci-Joni-Dave-Steve-Jay-Bobby-Carol-Tommy-Richie-Billy-and-KathyAnn–my cousins, all in one breath, and then my aunts and uncles and parents and brother, and Captain, our collie. (Adrienne was born later.)

Now, my dad has dementia. and reciting all my cousins’ names in order is how we help him remember who we’re talking about, or which cousin belongs to which of his sisters.

My dad has a story for every one of my cousins—the year Carol got an “Easter Bastard” from the Easter Bunny; the time Richie repeatedly spilled the bucket of soapy water my father was using to wash the car until my dad threw a wet soapy rag at him and it wrapped itself around his face; the time Grandpa Cone threatened to spank Jay, and Bobby, in turn, threatened, “I’m going to kill Grandpa,”; the day Jaci colored in Steve’s face with a magic marker as he lay in his crib, and said, “I thought it was paper”; all the times Joni was woken up and allowed to dance on the kitchen table late at night when she was a toddler; the time my dad gave 4-year-old Dave a cigarette on the back stoop of the house on E. 2nd in Brooklyn, because, as Dave said, “All working men smoke, right, Frank?”

In October, we had our first official grown up Cousins Weekend–Jaci-Joni-Carol-Adge and me. (Kathy Ann is in Florida.) I don’t know why it took us this long, but I have to thank Joni for getting us together, just for the sake of being together.

That weekend, we sat in my living room, and on the porch, and in restaurants, and remembered being little together, although we weren’t all, actually, little together, and talked about who spoiled who, and put together family secrets of which we each knew only parts.

I don’t know if it is this way for my cousins, but it is for me. We are family more because of our shared history, our shared stories, our communal narrative, than because of blood. We are our own community of practice, as we’d say in more professional contexts.

We share a memory; we share a discourse, a vocabulary. We have our own jargon.

Does it feel this way because I am a collector of stories? Am I a collector of stories–family stories–because I am adopted? (My brother would say yes.)

What would it mean to challenge our meant-to-be-a-family story emotionally, for me? I’m not sure I know how to do it.

Too many of us are adopted to say our family is “natural;” but our family has long been naturalized.  Our family is forged of things more ethereal than blood and bones and DNA.

We built this family, story upon story, lives and souls imbricated in narrative.

Memory and Other Fluids

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , on September 16, 2012 by chateaucone

Memory is another word for story, and nothing is more unreliable.

–Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall on Your Knees

It doesn’t matter who my father was. It matters who I remember he was.

–Ann Sexton

We narrate; therefore we are. And yet, we are all unreliable narrators.

The memories and stories in “Bedtime Stories,” and in all narrative, in all of this project, from all narrators, primary and secondary, are always and already interpretations of experiences. There is no pure memory, just as there is no pure self.

I am an unreliable narrator, as an essayist, as a theorist, as a graduate student, as an English professor, as a adoptee, as a daughter, as a hundred other subjectivities, relying on my always and already interpreted, perspective-laden, interested, partial, through-a-specific-lens, rhetorical, always-in-the-process-of-formation, pregnant with, infused with, negotiated with ideological and ethnic and religious and community and national values and beliefs, performed . . . memory.

Angel Guardian is an unreliable narrator. I am interpreting Helen Negri’s letter which is interpreting a file which is an interpretation of an interview which is an interpretation of a performance of a birth mother, a role that was interpreted by both my birth mother and by everyone watching that performance, each according to her own perspective, her own values and beliefs and discourses, the ideologies in which she was raised, in which her lives were transcripted and interpellated.

The voices in my mother’s adoption story: unreliable narrators; there is no center there, nothing to hold on to.

My father, in all his good will, the will-to-family, is an unreliable narrator.

My cousins: unreliable narrators.

There is no center at all. Memory, story, identity, subjectivity: molten, fluid, protean, kaleidoscopic.