My Mom and I were talking about memory and writing; recollection. She said it is too bad she cannot write down all the things that she is thinking and remembering, recollecting and sorting.
And and I said, does it matter, after all? Do we need to record the details of our lives, does it matter?
Mom has been an artist and an archivist when it comes to her personal life, with illustrated journals and photo albums documenting every stage of her life. And we love that about her, and treasure the products of her creativity.
But I was talking about the bigger picture and she joined me there. If everything we drew or wrote burnt up in a fire, would we have lived less, felt less, had less of a place on earth? It cannot be that our lives are less important when not examined, documented, given symbolic value.
It is a convergence of chance and timing that we know about certain people of the past, and not others. We don’t know what writers we will read 100 years from now, nor what films we will remember, and it does not matter. But every day we continue to document our thoughts and our actions in attempt to clarify them to ourselves, to see ourselves, and to place ourselves in reflected light.
Our own dreams do that every night, building symbolism and metaphors into our thoughts and actions, taking anecdotal experiences and merging them with poetic writing. Why are we driven to create poetry and art where pure life stands before us? Consciously, unconsciously, we cannot help building symbolism and trying to find patterns in the maze of life that is unmapped, uncontrollable and unpredictable.
Mom says that she has recently picked up the pleasurable habit of traveling in her mind. She settles down comfortably, or as comfortably as she can, her aging body crying out against time, and allows her mind to travel to a place in her memory. If she focuses on that pace in time she can go deep into it and see details of the scene as if she was living in it right at the moment.
It is like daydreaming, a fantastic pursuit, but backwards. When people sit and stare and their minds are elsewhere, they should be left alone to dream. I remember a writer; I think it was Alice Walker, thanking her mother at the front of one of her books for mopping around her when she sat on the kitchen floor in a dream world.
As my Mom sits and thinks and prepares for death, something she dreads and fears, she has certain memories and stories that keep appearing. Some of them I have heard before, like when a crow came and pecked a t her brass buttons on her coat when she was a little child left outside on the back porch, and no one believed her that it happened.
But other stories are emerging that I have never heard before. She told me that she used to scribble long pages of nonsensical ‘fake’ writing, as my first child did very diligently as well, and she told me that if she took that paper to her Mom she would read the story to her, making it up as she went.
I was taken with this story for a few reasons. I too had a very creative child who did fake writing, and in some ways I feel like I may be a bit like my Mom’s mother, who I never met. I have tried to picture her through my Mom’s stories but her stories are naturally colored by her complicated emotional feelings of being a daughter.
I have always had the impression of Mom’s Mother being a bit cold, an intellectual who later in life was given to stress headaches. A librarian and a reader, a feminist and a quiet activist, but I could not picture her being frivolous in any way. When I picture her reading aloud from her little daughter’s scribbles, putting words where there were none and creating a story out of her mind on the spot, it gives me a different view. She was a full blooded creative mother scrambling from task to task like me. She wrote poetry in her mind, words flowed and created stories even if she did not write them down.
My Mom has called that memory, ‘magical writing’. It has a title and a place in her mind, as if it is the first chapter in her autobiography. The next memory that keeps emerging could be entitled ‘magical thinking’; I have given it that name as I am writing this for Mom as if I am her official biographer.
As she tells it she was being put to bed in an odd room, possibly the attic, where the bed had a frill with a colorful red and green tulip pattern. I think she was being put to sleep in the young live-in maid’s room but I may be making that up. It was clear, at least, that she was in a different bed and could not sleep.
The young girl taught her how to relax and go to sleep by imagining something fun like designing clothes. That day Mom discovered that in her imagination she could design clothes any way she liked, and not be limited by what she could afford or sew. It was a break through moment in which she came to recognize the power of her mind.
The young babysitter had only suggested that she design paper doll in her mind in order to calm her and distract her. Being born and brought up in the depression, Mom knew how to cut out paper dolls and create clothes for them, and she wanted to get up and do it, but the babysitter told her to lie still and just imagine the clothes and build them in her head. From then on little Natalie knew how to use her mind to create, distract and placate.
Now suffering from every sort of indignity of old age Mom goes into her mind to relax. She can conjure up beautiful detailed memories replete with the scents and sights. Much of her mind travel is pleasant but not all of it. Her vivid imagination has only given legs to the hallucinations and delusions that accompany her Parkinson’s medicine.
She creates such detailed people in her mind that she finds that she must try to engage them in conversation if she wants to discover if they are real. She has discovered that her hallucinations never respond and avoid looking her in the eye. I compared it to the dreams I have that I am writing, but that I cannot read my writing as I dream it. She said it was like that.
She sees people in such detail that she can describe very detail of their outfits, and then her active mind makes up a story for why they are there. She has a film crew in her house who are forever moving things, boxing things and making her world seem to be in a state of flux. When she mentions this crew of workers I ask, ‘did you create these people”? And she sighs, “Well, that could be, but they do seem very real”.
The brain is our best mystery; we cannot really analyze the workings of our brains while we are using that very brain for our analysis. It is somewhat like trying to look into the eyes of our own hallucinations.
Thinking is our best action. We can do very little harm by thinking, contemplating and recollecting. Our brains can connect with the larger energy, flowing along a river of cyclical and symbolic imagery, creating something beautiful for no reason at all.
This is the first line of a poem that my Mom is writing,
“Along the sides of the river Illyses, scents of roses, scent of lilies…”