Our Memories as Personal Mythology

My sister and I must have had different parents. I have come to that dubious conclusion not based on genealogy or DNA, but on anecdotal experience. Of course, it isn’t true. Heck, look at our pictures, listen to our identical laughs. Unquestionably, my mother and father were Amy’s parents, too. But when I hear her stories about growing up in the same house as I did, with the same neighbors and the same influences, I often don’t recognize the people, places or events that are so vivid in her memory. And when I tell her my recollections, she helps me out by correcting my errors. After all, she’s the older sister, and knows the truth of our past.

This isn’t a rant on my sister, whom I admire and love. Instead, it’s my acceptance of something I came to realize when I was a young journalist interviewing various subjects. Everybody’s memories are personal mythologies, our creation stories about how we came to be who we are today. So, naturally Amy and I would remember our lives together quite differently. Perhaps if we combined our memories, we would be able to create a mosaic that might come a bit closer to understanding who we are in relationship to each other. And, yes, if we could talk to the dead, to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and to others who once shared our lives, we could probably paint a more complete picture of our past. But I don’t believe we can ever know with absolute certainty the fine details – the facts – of what happened on a certain day, whether it was 25 years ago or just last month.

That’s why I question shelving memoirs into the non-fiction section of a library or book store. Apparently, David Black, the author of An Impossible Life, agrees with me. Why else would he have given that piece of magical realism the subtitle a bobeh myseh, which is a Yiddish phrase that translates as an old wives’ tale, an untrue story or something of little consequence?

"An Impossible LIfe" by David BlackAn Impossible Life is a brilliant pastiche of Black’s family history, based on his memories, relatives’ oft repeated tales, Jewish heritage and folklore, a touch of Kabbalah, and references to the Torah, with the holes filled in by his imagination. The most prominent figment is his dead father, with whom Black has an ongoing conversation throughout the book. The novel weaves these various threads into a colorful tapestry that extends from modern times back through the Holocaust, to the shtetl, all the way to the biblical Patriarch and Matriarch, Abraham and Sarah (and Hagar). But it’s Black’s hard-nosed, sometimes angry, other times grudgingly tender perspectives that cut through it all, making his fictional accounts closer to truth – or at least, his personal truth – than most fact-anchored non-fiction could.

I understand that Black is currently developing a theatrical play based on An Impossible Life. Given his track record as an author and scriptwriter, whose career has been peppered with accolades, including Emmy and Pultizer Prize nominations, he certainly has the chops for it. And I look forward to seeing the story made flesh on the stage. However, a part of me would rather this fascinating cast of characters remained sequestered in my mind, where they might gestate and grow, until they and their impossible lives become part of my personal mythology.

 

[Note: My short story The Broken Bottle explores how personal mythology (especially related to a traumatic experience) can change over time.]

eBooks: The Neverending Edit

“The one who tells the stories rules the world.”
~ Hopi proverb


American Hands exhibit at Danville (PA) LibraryThe above quote comes from The Book by M. Clifford. In that dystopian novel, all “dead-tree” books have been outlawed (in a supposed environmental protection measure), and the powers-that-be (called The Editors) are constantly “updating” all books electronically. In other words, no book is a fixed point. Instead, they are altered frequently and nephariously to shape how the public thinks, feels and acts.

The hero of “The Book” discovers this truth through serendipity, when he happens upon “recycled” sheets from an old printed copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” being used as wallpaper in a men’s room of a bar. He compares his eBook version to the remnants of the printed version, which leads to him into rebellion and a thriller plot designed to intrigue any book lover.

The technology to support the dystopia described by Clifford’s novel exists today and has been in place for a number of years. Any book published digitally can be edited at any time, with little or no cost to the editor or publisher (or censor) other than time and effort. So, what is to keep us from having all facts, stories, histories, etc. altered beyond recognition? Will future Read More

Adventures at Readercon 2018

This past weekend at Readercon was filled with great conversations, superb author readings, interesting panels and the inevitable hijinx. I’m still going through pictures that folks have sent me of my readings, panels and friendly gatherings. Here are a few.

For my solo reading, I shared a portion of a recently completed novelette "Beyond Our Hidden Stars" (photo by David Stokes)
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What Authors Do You Read?

In an interview for “Book Reader Magazine,” Sally was asked, “Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who inspires you in your writings?”

Here is her answer:

“My favorite authors span such a wide range: Jorge Luis Borges, Michael Swanwick, Margaret Atwood, William Shakespeare, Daniel Grotta, Viktor Frankl, William Faulkner, Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel Delany, Gabriel Garcí a Márquez, Charles Kuralt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Tennessee Williams — so many others.

“Regardless of the genre, I love being swept upRead More

Savoring the Tale

I have always been a devourer of books. My earliest memories are punctuated with books ever by my side, seeking any opportunity to dive back in and swallow the stories whole. So many tales have swum about in my mind and soul, taking root, becoming part of me, that I can no longer remember most of them as individuals with lives and plots of their own.

But recently, I haven’t had the time to devote to reading that I have in the past. Do I miss my old world-devouring method of reading? No, because I am living books and ideas these days. My life has become what I call “creative chaos.” And I love all that I am doing, even though there really aren’t enough hours in the day to Read More

Songs Unheard, Books Unread: If Not for Readers

When I was fresh out of college, the only thing I wanted to do was sing. I knew that eventually I would want to write my stories, but first I ached to sing them. After several years of struggling in the New York scene, and singing only occasionally in various clubs, I came to realize that creating music meant that there had to be ears to hear it. Otherwise, my songs were nothing more than abstractions created in isolation, floating in the air with no place to land, to be made real.

I left New York, and in a round-about way (too complex to go into here), I finally ended up creating my stories in words and in pictures. But, like my music, my stories need Read More