Forgetting: N M Browne
I like to think I have a good memory - you wouldn’t want me on your quiz team - I don’t remember facts, but I have a
I don’t remember the day that this photograph was taken and it is full of mysteries: I am wearing a blouse of my mother’s which is odd. I am also wearing a long skirt and court shoes when everyone else is in shorts. Why? What am I doing with my legs and was it entirely wise when balancing a four year old on my hip? Who is taking this shot? Why are we all looking in different directions? I look miserable, but I know that this was a happy time, full of nappies, and milk, bedtime stories, incomprehensible childhood play and permanent dazed, exhaustion.
My guess is that we are saying goodbye to someone for whom I’ve just cooked lunch. I look like a woman with pans to wash, who has made a desperate attempt to look like a grown up. I suspect I was pregnant with my daughter too, which might account for the borrowed blouse. Either way I love this photo for its mixture of ease and awkwardness:the comfortable intimacy I remember, the particular circumstances, I forget.
It turns out that I don’t just forget events, I also forget stories, particularly my own. I have returned once again to a novel I wrote many years ago and I am struck by the same mixture of ease and awkwardness that I found in this photo. In the novel there is an oddness that poses questions. Things that made sense at the time, now, seen through older and more experienced eyes, seem inexplicable and mildly bonkers. My writing style is as unnecessarily and incongruously formal as my court shoes in this picture-as if I was trying too hard to be grown up and should have stuck with bare feet.
I have forgotten what it was I was trying to do with the novel: all I have is what I did and, like this photo, it both baffles and intrigues me. Why, for example, did I rush the ending so badly? Why did I introduce so many interesting plot ideas only to forget about them half way through? Why were all my name choices so terrible? And why did I so often eschew the use of the full stop?
Yet there is ease as well as awkwardness, an atmosphere and sense of place. The story evoked a very particular feeling that I have never forgotten, which makes it worth a rewrite.
Maybe, in the end, it is feelings that are most worth remembering: the comfortable intimacy of motherhood, the immersive strangeness of a new book. Let's hope so, as everything else I seem to forget.
I seem to remember the oddest of things and forget the stuff you'd think would stay with me. I'm horrendous are remembering names but can see a student I taught ten years ago and tell you what they made in one of my creative classes.