The Keys to My Memory.
April 21, 2014
A VG Serial: Hills of Eden
At the computer, dreams take shape.
Away from the blessed solitude, only reality. Yet the writer must live in both worlds.
The trigger to dreams is the encounter, physical and mental, with people outside the dreams. This is not a womb here, in front of my computer, but it often feels as if being here might be a return to a more trouble-free existence. Especially in January, when the hunting seasons are over, the lakes too cold to fish, the ground so hard and frozen that even a walk is a femur-jarring experience.
We settled here in Branson after wandering away from the Ozarks for two and a half years. We saw the great country, the enormous, powerful, haunting, magnificent West once again, the desolation and the awesome emptiness, the grandeur of the mesmerizing landscape, with its ghosts, its shifting colors, its mystical spells, its raging sunsets and endless skies.
We began our next phase of Ozarks solitaire in a humble dwelling that we planned to use only for a base while we continued to travel. We wanted to get back to the land we left, to work in peace and solitude, to find again the roots we had tendriled through the Arkansas earth. Just over the border, in Missouri, it seemed an ideal place to rest and take stock.
The old farm we owned in Arkansas was now inhabited by a younger couple and their children, good people who have inherited much that we reluctantly left behind.
I look at the muzzle loading rifles in the gun rack behind my desk, at the burlap calendar on the wall, the poster of a song on the door, a poem about the breaking of morning, a reminder of the first morning and all the mornings after, and begin to wind up my long day. I am grateful for this room, this mobile home in Lake Taneycomo Woods, my family.
It has been a day of scrambling and disorganized effort. I wonder if there is anything significant about it. Probably not. I enjoyed it though, as I enjoy every day.
The sunset tonight was spectacular. Seldom has this Ozarks sky been so red. The horizon was a broad smear of red ocher beyond Table Rock Lake.
A reporter came over from the local newspaper this afternoon to interview me about my first Ozarks book. We talked about a lot of things, but not about the book. He wanted to pin me down to something preconceived in his mind. I had only a mild objection, since it is easy to pin down a writer.
Writers are never seen at work. People see us only when we appear idle. I say “appear” because, like writing itself, this is an illusion. The mind is never idle. The writer’s mind is never very far away from the work. So, you see the reporter, talk to him. He is liable to end up in a book, even if only superficially. He could wind up as a reporter in 1850 or 1866 or at the turn of the century. You can talk to a man in a saloon and he is transformed, one day, into a fictitious character. We writers gobble up people like grave robbers in a cemetery of stereotypes.
Some people are uncomfortable around writers. I can understand why. We have a way of looking beyond conversational patter and digging into a person. We connect people up to other experiences, other personages in other times. We live in the present and write in the past tense. It’s always past tense, even if we write of the future. An idea is born, grows old before our very eyes.
The hum of my computer is comforting. The words appear on the screen in front of me as if they were scrolled there magically. It is quiet in the house. The books that surround me are oddly reassuring. Just to gaze at them brings a solace beyond explication. Someone has been there before, where you are going. I can see into their pages and recall the words that sing there, seemingly forever. At least the words are emblazoned there for as long as I will be around.
I recall the sunset and the sunrise.
Both were beautiful. And part of my habit, my simple creed never to miss either during your brief life on earth. They are just as precious as each breath taken in each day. They are things to recall during times of distress or trouble.
Recollection is a gift. A friend of mine, Jack Agins, was a doctor in Hollywood. He was a specialist in geriatrics. He once asked my advice about a book he wanted to write about elderly people. I did not have much advice since I was a young man in my thirties then. My mother loved elderly people and babies. I told him about her and he asked some technical questions about a book’s organization and the writer’s discipline. I told him how I constructed a book and stuck to it, working easily in harness, using my subconscious to find answers to plot puzzles and scene depictions.
Than I asked Jack what was the most terrible thing that an elderly person faced.
His answer was not what I expected. It was not loneliness, nor neglect, nor the fear and sadness of approaching death. Rather, the most crushing blow to an elderly person is the loss of memory. The horror of old age was being unable to remember the good times, the old times. The times.
I have thought of Jack’s pronouncement a lot since then. Jack was right. Losing one’s memory would be like erasing the chapters stored in the computer, like seeing all the pages of all the books in my room suddenly go blank.
I think I write, perhaps, because I want to leave a record of some days spent here on this good earth. Not out of ego or because my life is so special; it is not. But, because the best times are those shared with another, with someone you love, someone you do not know. With someone you want to know, even though you never will. And, too, I want to remember something before I forget it, forever.
It has been said that a writer must keep a diary or notebooks. There have been times when I felt this was the thing to do. But the practice never caught on with me. There is something secretive about a diary. My notebooks end up cobwebby, damp, soaked with rain, mildewed. I abandoned the practice when I realized that these private notations were not shared. They were cold, subjective, ego-stroking glyphs of no value to me or anyone else.
Instead, I write a lot of letters. These are my notes, my diary. They are keys to my memory. Even if I never see them again, they have gone out to someone, have told them about the day, the night, the pain, the good times, and the bad.
Here, in the Ozarks, there is so much that is memorable. There is so much to see every day, that if you don’t write it down, it will slip through your fingers like the tail feathers of a bird caught on the run.
Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.