While I’m on the subject of re-reading old notebooks, another thing I found in the one I wrote about yesterday was a list I’d made of all the people I’ve known since I was ten. I lay in bed last night until after midnight adding to it. It was an odd rush of memories all muddled together in the present. A distinct feeling that time is an illusion, since most of the names weren’t listed in any particular order. My third grade teacher just above my neighbor from a few years ago just above my first (and only) high school crush. Each name brought with it a flood of memories frozen in time, scraps, really–places, relationships, emotions, objects, regrets, dreams arrangements, failures. All stuff of fiction. The list was a goldmine of characters who could be sorted, mixed, and re-invented into countless stories.
A commenter on yesterday’s post mentioned my sentence about shame and suffering. I don’t remember why I wrote those two words in my notebook a few years ago, but I think they must be at the heart of human experience. I don’t remember if it was my idea or someone else’s.
an occasional striking [notebook] passage, which, lacking the quotation marks, [the writer] is not sure whether to attribute to himself or to someone far cleverer, funnier and more articulate, whom he happened to be reading at the time. (from the blog I mention below)
Shame and suffering. Maybe one causes the other. Shame implies judgment, that we don’t measure up somehow. Who is judging us? At first it’s authority figures, but then we begin to judge ourselves by their standards, which amounts to suffering. I used to think I had no shame, but if I didn’t, I’d be okay running around without clothes and being honest every time I said something. But I’m prevented. I do not want to suffer. I came across the following words in a blog on notebooks by Charles Simic in The New York Review of Books. They seemed relevant to my pursuit of paying attention to shame and suffering:
I opened a book in the [library] stacks and found a passage on1830s France by Charles Fourier, the utopian French philosopher, in which he talks about the dishonesty of business transactions, the tedium and deceit of family life, the hardship of small farmers, the miseries of the poor and near-destitute in great cities, the evils of naked greed, the neglect of genius, the sufferings of children and old people, the stupidity of war, the coercive mechanisms of society disguised as law, morality and the benefits of civilization. Can you believe this? I thought to myself. Everything this man said one-hundred-and-eighty years ago is true about us today. I had no choice but to write it down, so I could prove to my friends that nothing ever changes.
Proust must have understood that memories captured in a notebook can be like a time machine. But do any of us really learn anything? Like most people I know, I follow the path of least resistance. I avoid suffering and pain, when maybe they can teach me lessons I need to learn. Maybe that’s the definition of a hero: someone who steps outside the boundaries of time and shame and suffering. There are many stories tucked away in all this material. All the private moments where I realize I can’t sit still in a room by myself yet.
- A Writer’s Notebook: poem from an old notebook (Retro #1) (snoekbrown.wordpress.com)
- Take Care of Your Little Notebook (nybooks.com)
- Simple Things – A Blank Notebook (neontypewriter.wordpress.com)