Just this morning I was re-reading some entries in an old notebook from back in 2002. As a writer the idea of memory has intrigued me for some time. In one entry I wrote “Memory is overrated. It’s severely flawed, so what’s the point of it? How can we begin to understand reality if memory keeps getting in the way?” That entry reminded me (i.e., I remembered ✓) of a quote I recently found but don’t remember (✓) where: “The only difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”
Memory is maddeningly subjective and infinitely malleable. As in asking someone to identify a perpetrator in a lineup. Or to recall (✓) events on Thursday, November 6, 1986. Some people can do a very convincing job. But no two will recall (✓) the events in exactly the same way. I only recently learned the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. The former is “an account of any part of the author’s life, delivered in any order, while the latter relates all of the notable events of the author’s life, typically in chronological order.” [quote from here]. Certainly some people’s memories are more reliable than others, but there is so much room for embellishment and gap-filling that both memoir and autobiography tread a thin line that distinguish them from fiction.
Transformation–taking the raw materials of your life, making small and large changes to turn what you know into fictional material. Transformation gives you power over events–life is disorganized, here you impose order; protects you–no one knows who he is; provides new insights by trying to see it from the point of view of your characters, not the people you knew; gives you power over your story. ~ Kit Reed
Another entry in this same notebook involved a visit to an old childhood hangout: Bart’s Books of Ojai, which calls itself as the world’s greatest outdoor bookstore. What does “greatest” mean? Best? Largest? Either way, it has (since the 1990′s) become a required destination for the upscale bibleoholic. Anyway, here is some of what I wrote:
For some reason bookstores are the best laxative on the planet. I wouldn’t dare go to a bookstore that did not provide a public restroom (I think bookstore owners understand this, hence you will probably never find a bookstore without a public restroom). There you are browsing the titles with your head bent to one side for hours (people always know what you’ve been up to because when you step out of the bookstore your ear still meets your shoulder for awhile). You see a hundreds of books on thousands of subjects. You pull this one then that one. You move to a different section. Something jars your memory (✓). A title. An author’s name. Some list you left at home with a name on it. Some idea, some story, some image.
Pretty soon you realize it’s time to find the restroom. You high-tail it to the sign with the appropriate gender word on the door and hurry to do your business. It never fails (same as reading on the john), annoying as it is because it interrupted the flow of that day’s quest. You finish, wash your hands and leave passing a line of others who also had the same urge. Life presents such oddities. Bart’s has one unisex restroom. To get to it you have to sidle through a long aisle stuffed with travel books.
Yesterday I was in Bart’s. That place is older than dirt. It looks a tad seedy, yet comfy, Bohemian, with a garden courtyard between two old houses and surrounded by a fence of bookshelves. The place is open to the elements, protected only by large umbrellas. A labyrinth of nooks and crannies filled with mouldering books. Trees grow in the middle of aisles. One of the buildings houses art prints and art books. The other features collectors’ editions with a separate room just for cookbooks. No one hassles you. You can wander in there for hours and days. You could get lost and sleep over night in there and no one would know. Most of the books have minimal value, but sometimes you can find a gem. I found a first English edition of Spengler’s The Decline of the West for $30. I was browsing the travel books as I waited to use the john (I had put off using it too long). I could hear someone in there rustling around. This person was taking forever. My bladder was having none of it. I imagined its face to be the very one in Munch’s “The Scream.” Continue reading