Stirring Memories

Today the sky was mostly filled with dry clouds. They cooled the face of the earth, but nothing wet fell from them. I felt slightly relieved from the heat we have been receiving. We have nearly forgotten what rain means here in California. High-country lakes are bone dry, ski lifts in Tahoe have no snow, and bears have been too warm to go into hibernation. I think we are done with winter this year, but my guesses are usually pretty inaccurate.

I’m just not very good at peering into the future. When I see uncertainty ahead of me, I’m apt to blame my lack of vision on others. Either that, or I like to think that my own future is uncertain because of non-specific things, such as our rapidly changing world culture.

Some days when I feel inadequate or frustrated with living, I get pretty good at blaming others. If that doesn’t work, then I will think of past circumstances that might have triggered my current displeasure. I’ll do almost anything to convince myself that I have no control of my life. Then some days I pick up one of my favorite books, to read a passage or two of inspiration, and realize that I should not really be looking forward or backward in time for contentment. My past and future are so easily influenced by my dark and subjective thinking.

Just this past week, while camping down on the edge of the wilds in Big Sur, I brought along my portable voice recorder so that I might record some of my memoirs, a writing project I have been working on little by little for a couple of years. I talked into the recorder one afternoon for a couple of hours while sitting in the warm sunshine.  I was trying to recall some things about my earlier life, tell myself my own history, so that I might write about it. I was thinking of events that might help me understand where I am today. I realized how much bitterness and resentment I carry hidden inside of me. I discovered moments of anger or frustration from years ago that never got completely resolved in my own mind, but were buried and forgotten.

Scars and wounds from as far back as 50 years ago still lying just beneath the surface of my consciousness. As I began speaking into the recorder, I suddenly saw myself standing outside of myself, as though I were a second person who was listening to this retelling of events. Wow, where did all of this forgotten life come from? There were raging emotions that I had thought were dead. Even though they don’t seem to influence me today, I find it amazing that they still live inside of me, like buried ghosts looking for a new life.

I began to question the value of memoir writing. Maybe just the facts of where I lived and where I went to school, the names of my friends and my favorite baseball players, would be enough to satisfy the minimum requirements of a memoir. In some winters a powerful storm system may blow through and knock down trees, cause mud slides, and change the course of rivers and creeks, but a year later, though the changes may continue to be observable, the initial discomfort the storm might have brought to life is mostly forgotten. That seems to be the way of nature.

This week I have backed off from adding any more detail to my memoirs. What am I trying to achieve by writing them? It’s one thing to pass on family stories and history to future generations, but I don’t know that probing my psychological depths is very productive. Sometimes the past is better off left asleep.

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