“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” -Speak, Memory
That’s the title of Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir, which I read two years ago for a class I took called Literary Memoir. The title is fitting, I think, for memoirists, but it also works for writers regardless of genre. Writers tend to work from what they know (I certainly do) and the best writing comes from a place of truth, even if it’s labeled as fiction. We want to believe what you’re telling us could happen, even if the world in which it happens lives only in imagination.
I’ve been thinking about this as I write a memoir of sorts, but also as this past weekend was Memorial Day, a time to honor those who live only in memory, particularly those who sacrificed their future for ours. I can’t imagine the selflessness and courage their actions require; we are fortunate that we don’t have to think about their sacifices for much of the year. It would be so wonderful to conjure them up with nothing more than that simple two word command: Speak, memory. Tell me the stories you have stored. At least, that’s what I imagine Nabokov meant in punctuating it that way: to address memory––his memory––and incite it to talk to him. The saddest thing I think about with respect to death is the loss of all the dead person’s memories and thoughts, shared and not shared. Thank God for other people’s memories; may we all live in within them.
I thought about Speak, Memory yesterday when I heard about Maya Angelou’s death. I feel lucky to have lived to hear her speak live, even if it was on TV and I wasn’t even in the same time zone. I appreciate her generosity and interest in humanity, as well as the vast collection of her writing. My favorite quotes: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” and “Try to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud,” and “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
I think that’s one of the things that was so great about Maya Angelou; I could believe that if I ever met her, we would become friends. And not just in that fawning, fan-idol way, or on some planet that only exists in my imagination, but in a way where she’d have a glass of iced tea with me and sit in a rocking chair on one of our porches.
We may have lost all of the memories and thoughts Maya Angelou did not share, but how fortunate for everyone that her words and memories live on in print. That is one of the reasons that I write.
I want to write so many things. I’m sorry I’ve been quiet here; I’ve been writing and communing with other writers, and I’m trying frantically to get my second book done. BUT exciting things are coming. I’ll be bloghopping next week with a writer friend of mine, Andrew Blissenbach (of Mandrew’s Blissenblog; you should check it out!) and the anthology in which an essay of mine is included will be coming out in early July. If you would like a copy, please let me know (message me, email, or post in the comments). The list price is $19.99 but I can get it for you for $12 (and I’ll even sign it!). I hope that someday soon I’ll be posting about querying agents (and maybe, if I’m lucky, about getting an agent).
And if you live in the Cities, come check me out at Brave New Workshop Student Union for some improv the next three Friday nights. I have a feeling that, if we aren’t already, if you and I meet someday, we’ll definitely become friends.