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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.

J. Alfred

If you've read The History of Love, you'll recall the story about the age of glass, where everyone believed a part of himself to be extremely fragile. The book tells the story of a young man who fell in love but every time he kissed the girl and his knees began to shake, he worried that a part of him would shatter. One night to protect himself he pulls back and leans away, the girl feels hurt, and in the course of explaining ("Part of me is made of glass."), he only makes it worse. Later, he couldn't shake this regret: "That in the most important moment of his life he had chosen the wrong sentence."

This line haunts me. Because it's so beautifully accurate. And also because there are few things more punishing than regret. I have experienced this regret myself...wondered if a certain situation may have turned out differently had I not said a line I'd been rehearsing for just such a moment but rather said what actually came to me in the moment itself. Sometimes I think I've done too much planning and preparing and not enough living.

Which got me thinking about Prufrock. Because how much does my History of Love story sound like this stanza:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,                                             90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say, "That is not what I meant at all.
  That is not it, at all."

Or this one:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,                                           100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  "That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all."

Yes, sometimes it is impossible to say just what we mean, and even after we try, it is often not what we meant. That is not what I meant, at all. Perhaps it's inevitable though. We're destined to see our greatness flicker, to shatter our own selves in the quest to remain whole. Oh my gosh, what am I saying? Look what poetry does to people. Let me slap myself upside the head and leave you with this parting thought: Eat that peach, J. Part that hair behind.


Forgetting Katniss

I'm in the process of studying for a final. (No, there isn't an education-related addendum being written to Schooled. Although I can confirm that these hobby-esque classes will be tied into the subject of currently half-done book two.) And particularly when studying for a class that requires the memorization of a gazillion facts and figures, I am reminded often of both how much the human brain can retain, as well as how much it does not. As I've gone back over all the quizzes I've taken for this course over the past six months, it's embarrassing how much I've managed to forget. But as I dedicated myself to preparing for this final, it's amazing how much I've been able to re-learn, and in not very much time. The brain is just so...spongey.

I suppose it's one thing to forget facts and figures, but what about other things? What about things we learn for fun? What about reading books? Having studied English in college, sometimes I feel like all I can remember is a single story that manages to blend together everything I've ever read; that every literary character becomes a composite of every other character. For example, Silas Marner came up in conversation recently. While some strands of familiarity surfaced, I was stumped. My mind took inventory of male literary characters and produced some combination of Bartleby the Scrivener and J. Alfred Prufrock, and I realized I had no idea if I'd ever read Silas Marner. If so, I could not in that instant pluck out a plot line. Still can't. Or for a more contemporary example, I was discussing The Hunger Games trilogy with family members over Thanksgiving, and my sister-in-law brought up the "vote" at the end of book three. Um, vote? What on earth? How is this possible? I mean, I positively inhaled those books, yet here's how the Thanksgiving discussion went down:

Me: "Uh, vote?"
SIL: "Yeah, when they're all sitting around the table. And she's the deciding vote."

I do not remember this.

Me: "Who is?"
SIL: "Katniss."

I do not remember this at all.

Me: "What are they voting on?"
SIL: "On whether or not to make The Capitol's children do a hunger games."

Oh. My. Gosh. How intense! Go for it Katniss! Make them pay! But wait, shouldn't you of all people want to end the games once and for all?

Me: "Does she vote for it?"
SIL: "Yeah."

Who knew? Except me. Two years ago.

Of course, it's impossible to retain everything we put into our brains, and that's OK. I'm not beating myself up over my lack of ability to recall every detail about the world of Panem. Or scrivenry. The good news is we have the ability to learn period. And the ability to re-learn even when we forget. So if Silas Marner is worth re-reading, someone please tell me.