I tread memory—
Soft and treacherous
Falling, falling through
Memory is not solid ground. Although quite roamable—and we do roam, seemingly love to—have you ever tried firmly to plant your feet on any one memory spot, on any one plot of exposed memory ground?
The amazing thing is that you soon might find yourself free-falling, having punched a fallable-through hole in the memory fabric with your far too heavy memory foot. Even lighter feet will often burrow through (and the rest of you with them).
Sometimes memories arrive bidden (especially joyous ones), though mostly they—like pesky relatives—arrive unbidden with no intention of leaving anytime soon. It’s as if they hover in the air, all of our memories, surrounding us at variable distances ready to pounce at the slightest sign of an exterior commonality detail (sometimes crude, sometimes subtle), no matter how slight or un-pin-point-able—as in: how on earth did I wind up in this memory?
So, take heed: while the memory carpet is soft and treadable, it is almost always treacherous, and will leave you some temporal ways apart from where you started.
The notion or image of a bog comes to mind, or the thick and fecund mosses that sometimes cover and encroach on the surface of dark water (I believe the term is marsh), solid enough to tread up to a point, though one more step (as treacherous as memory) and you will sink through and into the strange waters below: such is memory.
At times, just for the hell of it, I have traced the path back—how on earth did I wind up in the Daily News (Dagens Nyheter) employee cafeteria watching a colleague taking a cigarette smoking break midway through his cheese omelet, the image as clear as anything? What triggered this one, what carpet hole did I fall through to land here?
It was an unpaid bill, not due yet by a long shot, just waiting for me to get around to it. These days I pay all bills electronically, but there was a time when bills were all paid by check, and a time before that (1960s) where I’d take the bill to the post office and paid it there, with cash—they gave me a checkbook once in 1969 but I was such an enthusiastic checkwriter (and such a bad record keeper) that they withdrew that particular privilege giving me very strange looks, the bank officers did; talk about a black financial eye, but that’s neither here nor there.
Still, this unpaid bill did create an unpaid-bills hole in the memory carpet and I saw myself first writing checks and licking envelopes making sure the check was in fact signed before I sealed it then digging through my pocket for correct change at the much earlier post office then digging through my pocket for correct change in the employee cafeteria, then wondering how on earth my colleague could stop half-way through his omelet to smoke a cigarette (Pall Mall was the brand), the half-eaten, wounded omelet oozing offended cheese on his plate, awaiting his return to the primary task at hand.
The thread of commonality between the current and the past and the earlier past and the earlier past and the et cetera past can be the craziest little thing, links seem to form on whims—but there is a commonality, there is a somewhat logical path that this rabbit hole takes as you plummet further and further back and sideways and down again before you finally wash up on the shore of the present wondering what that was all about.
Sometimes, if the water is deep (and interesting or captivating or plain ornery) you can be gone for a long time, and not ever entirely wash up on the shores of now, a little bit of you still down there, fighting for air but seemingly okay with drowning.
So, these days, when I see the memory carpet spread out before me, I take very light steps, one slow one after the other slow one testing the marsh’s floating moss to see if it’ll hold before shifting my weight. This way I’ll be sure not to fall through to find myself lost (unless I want to lose myself, of course—that happens, too: we call that reminiscing).
There was a time when I did not touch type, there was a time when we did not have laptops, there was a time when we did not have electric typewriters (IBM Selectric), there was a time where we hardly had typewriters at all… and here I go again.