Friday, January 27, 2012

In Case You Don't Recall

My book club's pick this month was S.J. Watson's Before I Go to Sleep, a novel in which the main character, Christine, suffers a form of amnesia in which she wakes each morning remembering nothing of her prior life.  As she gathers information about herself she begins to keep a journal she can consult every morning and add to every day, before she forgets it all again as she sleeps.  The novel is a page turner; one morning she discovers she has written to herself, "Don't trust Ben [her husband]." 

My fellow book club members and I engaged in an intriguing discussion about the arbitrary nature of memory (why have I held on to the characteristics of drumlins from 9th grade geography class, but can't remember the name of a student who graduated last year?), about the importance of perspective in recalling the facts of an occurrence (five siblings' recollections of a singular family event are a fascinating case study), and the strengths and weaknesses of our own abilities to remember (I can conjure details--even outfits I wore--from when I was eight years old, but not many from when I was 34?).  It's clear that my memory has muddied; I rely more and more on notes, lists, and calendars (and a daily fear of flaking).  I suspect, however, that my life, now that I manage my own as well as my children's schedules, has grown more complex than it was even ten years ago. 

Also, there are more passwords. 

The question arose at our meeting, "What would you write down today if you knew when you woke up tomorrow you would have no prior knowledge of yourself?"  Our minds turned at once to cherished memories that would beg recording.  Reminders of people important to us, near and distant, living and passed.  Explanations for how things came to be, decisions that were made, and key influences on our character. 

But I began wondering, what could I convince myself of, under the circumstances of having no memory, that I would otherwise know better?  What might I delude myself into believing?  What should I warn myself about (while I am thinking of it--allergy to shellfish!)?  About which aspects of my life would I be tempted to gently persuade myself, or steer myself clear? 

How could I change the course of my life by carefully considering the way I talk to myself?

So I decided to try writing to myself, thinking that more important than telling myself about my life would be to tell myself about me

Dear Fer,

You're confused, I know.  It's like the confusion you feel when you wake up in an unfamiliar place and for a few moments wonder where the heck you are and how you got there.  Except you're also wondering who the heck you are. Read on, because I am going to help you [ed.:  And there, I've already forgotten to try and impress myself with witty or deeply insightful writing...].  

You'll understand the basics soon enough--that you have a husband and two daughters, and lots of extended family...I'll save those revelations for the characters who will inevitably show up (if they haven't already!  Is it past 6 AM?) and prove themselves to you.  My job is to let you know some of the things others might not tell you.  Maybe even some of the things they don't know.  You're going to have to be patient and refer to that magnet on the fridge which reads, "What if we just acted like everything was easy?"  You aspire to do this everyday, with varied results. 

It's tempting to tell you that you're more than capable of things you've considered or attempted:  publishing your writing, having a third child, moving your family abroad, taking on a new leadership role, feeling good about your contributions to the world, friends, family.  But you'd see through me soon enough, recognize the insecurities.  It might be that the nagging doubts keep you balanced and realistic.  Perhaps they also help you identify what you're truly passionate about. 

I'll start with what's easy for you, Fer:  Making a meal with whatever is in the house.  Getting ready to go in the morning.  Coming up with ideas.  Proofreading.  Going for a run.  Managing a lot on your plate (both digestively and figuratively).  Worrying.  Working with children.  Teaching.  Talking.  Traveling. Crying.  Apologizing.  Being goofy.  Feeling guilty.  Getting on board.  Spending money at TargetMaking piles of papers.  Giving yourself permission.  Being vulnerable.  Putting up with broken stuff.  Contemplating change.

Here's what's tougher for you, Fer:  Putting your clothes away.  Remembering to let go and relax sometimes.  Not interrupting.  Driving long distances.  Managing a lot on your plate (figuratively).  Tolerating chaos.  Eating less cheese.  Climbing things.  Discussing tough family or relationship issues with the loved one in question. Being vulnerable. Fixing household items without making them broken in a new way.  Experiencing change. 

As for parenting, it belongs in each category at different moments.  No other role you've assumed can make you feel as wonderful and as low.  Perhaps it's best to approach it with a fresh outlook each day. You've got that going for you!

Maybe you're just like anyone else in this regard, but your best memories are of deep conversations and revelations in both simple and exotic places. Stargazing with your husband in Belize. Sleeping on the train with your daughters. Long runs with good friends. Family meals. Moments of mutual admiration and appreciation.

Now for some advice.  Go easy on your husband, who is an incredible father and partner and often the brunt of your bad moods. 

Big Sis is old enough now to hold up a reasonableness meter to your responses and reactions, and for now, she does it politely.  Listen to her; she's going to help the whole team with her gentle guidance.

There isn't too much time or attention you can bestow upon your family.  You've understood this all along, but you really get it now

Finally, you're always working on the balance, on the feeling good about your time and attention to family and friends, to work, and to yourself, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.  The neverending adjustments are, well, neverending, so I can't help you settle the deal for once and for all.  But Fer, you're good at the checks and balances.  You know when something is off.  Trust yourself. 

Maybe that's the most important wisdom for me to pass on to  Trust yourself; I trust you. 

See you in the morning.

1 comment:

CJ said...

Yay!I love how you let me inside your head and heart with your writing. Thanks