The above is a quote from Joan Didion's newest book Blue Nights. She is referring to the many mementos she has of people and time gone by, some of which is here or there in places that make some sense and then there are 'the objects for which there is no satisfactory solution.'
This is why she loves non-fiction. This is also why I love non-fiction. As she said in the interview I mentioned yesterday, "there is more space" in non-fiction. With fiction you are compelled to follow a narrative. And as we all 'know' narratives don't take too kindly to 'the objects for which there is no satisfactory solution.' Those must be tossed out as unwieldy, perhaps too beautiful or too big or too small, but for whatever reason not right.
So much of life in my experience fits into this category, which is why I resist narrative so strongly. I feel it masks more than it reveals.
Having said that, in Mary Karr's excruciating memoir of her childhood The Liars' Club (referring to the effect one of her father's tall tales, as told to his group of friends, the eponymous liars' club, who listen to his stories in particular with attentive respect, even when they know they are being lied to somehow, or should do) "I've plumb forgot where I am for an instant, which is how a good lie should take you. At the same time, I'm more where I was inside myself than before Daddy started talking, which is how lies can tell you the truth."
So perhaps it is living on this line that's important - when writing 'non-fiction' knowing it is always to some extent fictional, contingent, subjective (Didion says when she started placing herself in her journalistic stories it was not the done thing but she felt it was necessary to allow the reader to know "who that was at the other end of the voice") and when speaking or writing fiction knowing it can penetrate to someone's core, but perhaps only if the recipient knows it's a lie. In the section Karr is describing, it's the first time she is complicit with her father and knows he's lying. Perhaps it is that knowledge that allows her the other feelings?
When referring to the other men in the liars' club Karr says "Daddy never fessed up to the lie that I know. It stayed built between him and the other men like a fence he'd put up to keep them from knowing him better." So without knowing the truth of the lie, something is lost.
Didion was so clear that memory is a liar, that all we remember is what we do not want to remember. I think she's right in the end. If a memory is painful, we'd rather not have that, but sometimes, too, good memories can bring us closer to the lack of whatever moment/time/place/person that was. She is obsessed in Blue Nights with "how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here." She then repeats the phrase: "How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is another thing I could not afford to see."
She reads these phrases, says these things, sitting on a chair looking like an oversized, very calm exotic bird - quite thin, quite beautiful, thankfully allowing her skin to be wrinkly in that same exquisite way that Louise Bourgeois' face became carved with all her life's suffering and laughter mapped on it for all to see. These women look heroic to me, like statues prior to death. I imagine that is not how they feel or in Bourgeois' case felt, but to a woman like me (of a certain age...) these women are heros. They have carved out their writing and art into the world, which finally appreciates it/them. They have suffered huge losses, but they survived. They see so keenly. They are the wise ones.
Doris Lessing wrote about the 'wise ones' in one of her books, I think it was the Golden Notebook, and she speaks of these people as those who will walk through and over whatever is necessary to survive, not give up, give in, shy away. She was writing that in her 40s I believe, in a bid to become one of the wise ones, which she of course has become. Is.
Mary Karr is in her 50s and is walking the same path, is probably already a wise one, but I have no doubt will continue in this walk and become even wiser. I hope she too survives well into her dotage so we can benefit from her words. I hope I can live that long, too, so I can finish all the projects I so want to write and create. I am not sure I can possibly finish them all, but I am lucky, I realize writing this, so lucky: to have so many ideas. To want to create that badly and to have time (I hope) to do so...
My teaching for the semester ends on Thursday. Once I have finished marking and get some paperwork into Hunter for the acting class, I will be able to focus on the writing and such for a blissful 6 weeks. Well, that and all my shit from London arriving in a couple weeks and deciding where on earth to put it all. There will be many objects for which there is not satisfactory solution. That will take about a week, then holidays, etc...but I promise myself as a solemn oath to take big chunks of time to write and do my own work.
I want to be one of the wise ones, too, which means I need to be more ruthless with my time and energy than I am. This makes me wonder if I will ever be truly wise or perhaps more like my meditation practice (which I refer to as 'dumbass meditation' because I don't even attempt not to think, which is like impossible anyway - I just sit there, eyes shut, coffee cup to my left and breathe for about 25 minutes with coffee sip intervals - but 15 years of that every day!). Perhaps, then, the best I can aspire to is dumbass wise. Somehow that seems more probable and like attainable...
So, now to preparing my last review for this semester of the Fundamentals of Interpersonal Communication, God help us all and especially my students...I do my best.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.