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In my family, I’m the memory keeper, the ideas person, the one who remembers what colors were on my favorite Christmas sweater, the one that shrunk in the wash. I used to think that everyone had the same memory, and then I realized how wrong I was. No one quite retains our past the way I do.
When I was little, I wanted to do everything my older brothers did, and I wanted to do it better. So I tried to ride their bikes while I still had the training wheels on mine, I tried to wrap my chubby fingers along the lacing of their football, and I read their books before I knew what the words meant. So when I saw them writing, doing their homework, I had to do it, too. Chris and Brian couldn’t just read the words on the page, they could create their own and I needed to know whatever magic they had learned.
After my hovering and lip biting, my mother gave me a large sheet of lined, scratchy handwriting paper, the kind with the blue dotted lines that feels like cardboard and erases with huge smudges, right before the paper rips open. And I got to write. I had a baby blanket covered in teddy bears, with the alphabet stitched together in red and white squares. I reprinted all of those detailed letters, putting that distinct curve at the end of my ls and dotting my is and js.
One day, in the middle of my insistent practicing, I either got sick of the brown paper or maybe my mind drifted, and I was looking for a new canvas to perform on. And there, in the living room, were my parents’ nice white walls.
When my mother caught me, I had written several little es in a tiny section of the wall, by the window. A part of me must have recognized that what I was doing (in pencil), was wrong, because all of the letters were nicely written from behind the thick curtains.
Years later, I made a similar, unintentional mistake, practicing my nerdish penmanship on a clean, adult sheet of college-ruled white paper. With blue permanent marker.
The ink leaked through the thin pages and onto our wooden dining room table. All the commercials for stain cleaners promised me that my scribbling would come out. Decades later, the faded blue marks remain.
I get asked a lot what I would like to next, what I would want to do instead, what else I’m good at, if I weren’t writing. But even before I realized that to write could be an occupation, this is always something that I just did. I gladly took up any extra writing assignment just for the fun of it. I read my brothers’ summer reading books, before they did, and afterwards. My quite stunning fall papers surprised my teachers to the point that they were certain that someone else had written my words for me.
I wonder where the words come from. I think it usually starts with a nugget of an idea, and then it gradually develops, one idea after another in a rolling succession. It’s building a tiny house from a set of Lincoln Logs. Everything fits together, you just have to get your pieces in the right order.
I was thinking about words on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when President Obama gave yet another speech, somehow trying to commemorate the day and inspire us all to greatness. I love how language and a turn of a phrase can beat like your favorite song. But I’m easily swayed by words. I cry at commercials, tiny kittens playing, the end of basketball games. And as the President ramped up to the end of his speech, he placed at everyone’s feet a series of ideas. Ideas that the young version of me couldn’t have imagined. Ideas that were as misshapen and unknown to my tiny mind as the end of the alphabet.
“And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day,” he said. “You are America. Unconstrained by habit and convention. Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.
For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.”
Sometimes I wonder if what I write is enough. If my words could change the world. Thinking about what’s next, and what I want to be, and what I could do, I scribble notes into an old, worn black notebook. It’s been through several countries with me, and there are only a few pages left. Then, I sent a text to my brothers.
“Do you remember when I stained the table with that blue Sharpie?”
They both respond within minutes: “Vaguely…I have a horrible memory.” “No one remembers that stuff but you.”
What is it about memory that clings to us? My view of the past so informs my present and my future that the idea of making complex decisions, any decision, can seem insurmountable. I hope it’s easier for everyone, for the rest of the memory keepers, but I know it’s not.
“I had an idea,” I told my brothers. “I’ll work it out.”
The latent professor in me wants all of you to produce your best work, to reach for the perfect phrases, to relate a memory that contains your best and your worst.
It takes ages to craft a narrative that you can deliver in minutes. The important part, as all of these writers keep producing and exploring and finding their way, what we want to do at LitroNY, is to allow writers and readers to create and contribute to the literary landscape.
Send on your words. I want to know what you write, how you write it, and what inspires you. Let’s keep the conversation going.