Forgetting & Place
In an interview with the Paris Review in 2007, Haruki Murakami said memory was “The most important asset of human beings.” Continuing, he said his own memory was “like a chest of drawers when I want to be a fifteen-year-old boy, I open up a certain drawer and I find the scenery I saw when I was a boy in Kobe. I can smell the air, and I can touch the ground, and I can see the green of the trees. That’s why I want to write a book.”
I think we all have memories we store, some dear to us, which we can recall with vivid clarity at the slightest hint, and others more subdued, where even a conscious effort to remember might not bring forth the details you’re looking for.
On the first day of this year, I went with my girlfriend to watch one of my favorite movies in the theater, “Spirited Away”. In it, a girl named Chihiro is forced to work at a bathhouse for spirits in order to try and save her parents. The bathhouse is run by a witch named Yubaba, who controls people by capturing their names. Once you’ve forgotten your real name, you chances of escape are slim.
In a run-in with Yubaba’s sister, Zeniba, she tells Chihiro that “Once you do something, you never forget it. Even if you can’t remember”. What about remembering things that didn’t happen, at least not as you remember them?
There are a lot of triggers for memory. Proust famously talks about the use of senses in recollection, like taste and smell. For him, having a Madeleine with tea immediately opened the floodgates to the memories of his Aunt.
Sometimes, I think I have a similar memory to Murakami. I can recall things that others might view as banal and mundane, and try to render them with enough clarity to fill in the gaps, making it something memorable for the readers. This, I think, is what it means to be a writer.
In a way, I’m also performing the same trick on myself. I frequently recall moments that leave me wondering if they were a dream or something unremembered from reality. Other times, I remember something and wonder what, if anything, was significant about it, or what caused that to surface.
Through my mindfulness and meditation practices, my chest of drawers is only growing even faster. As I better learn my own process and mind, I find this sense of awareness wash over me with increasing frequency.
I find a lot of these details are centered around places, however small, however created or discovered. For the story Moth, I drew on only the idea of a small door, bordering an enclosed body of water, connecting to the lake I live near. The door can only be seen from the highway, or at specific angles, and is hidden generally from view. Instead of learning what it was for, as my curious mind wanted, I allowed it to fill in the gaps and draw a narrative in and around the lines.
There are times when I specifically “save” a location in my mind, based on the potential I think is there for narrative. Other times, an image or view is brought forth, and I try and see how that can be incorporated. I think I save places, lines, and even words, as much as I save memories.
I am a believer in the idea that making your own tools leads to greater strides in your personal development. After all, the more control you have over a project, the better a reflection it will be of yourself and your abilities. (Of course, there are plenty of great reasons for collaboration, and many projects that can only be accomplished as such, regardless of discipline.) And writing is in a way the purest form of that idea.
Not only are you responsible for the tools and memories at your disposal to draw from, it’s up to you to shape these ideas and dreams into something tangible. The best stories become memories for both the writer and the reader. Even if you haven’t dreamed it yet.