A new year, and there is much talk about resolutions and what lies ahead. I’ve been engaging in this looking forward too, aspiring and hoping for this or that to receive more time, energy, success…. But in the midst of all this resolving and happy hopes for what’s next, I want to take a minute to think back. After all, this is a blog on memory.
I’ve just perused three blog drafts sitting in the bowels of this WordPress site, awaiting completion and the air that comes from publication; and in rereading each one, I wished I could read to the finish, and I wished it were already out there. Out there in the stratosphere…of internet blog-land, something someone else could stumble upon too; something I had finished putting forward instead of holding it close.
So much of writing is held close: as it germinates; as we draft it; as we revise; and revise again. (And keep multiplying those revisions.) It can be nerve-wracking to let go. But of course it’s liberating too. This was one of the reasons I started this blog. It’s been not quite three years, and yet it feels longer, viewed across a sea of changes: growing children and professional engagements among them.
But in looking back, I remember what I saw as the appeal of blogs and the internet. It can be a private place to be public. This seems like an oxymoron; and yet it is this intimacy of the web that we all return too: the way we feel part of various communities, whether through Facebook or Twitter or sites we frequent. And yet it is just each of us, individually, in the moment, with the screen. I persist in experiencing intermittent discomfort with some of this; I have to resist an inner impulse towards withdrawal and self-censor when I post on Facebook, tweet, and so forth. And, like many, I still struggle to find the right balance for me—my life online and off and its sometimes oppositional priorities. Engagement often competes with the quiet necessary to write, indeed to get many things done.
And so in the spirit of both change and persistence, of looking back and looking forward, up goes this post (online!); and I am instructing myself to revisit those languishing drafts again (offline!), whether to finish and post them, as backward looks that continue to matter in the present; or to update and push them into the evolving new year. The themes there remain deeply important to me, and to my interests here on this site and beyond.
So, here’s a glimpse at the themes in those drafts—at memory and looking forward:
1) Preoccupations with war, circa May 2013. Last year, I launched a writing workshop for veterans, Voices from War, and in its earlier phases, I tried to get down some of the reasons I’d ended up feeling so passionately about the subject of veterans, war, and writing. Voices from War starts its second season later this month with many wonderful people involved, supporting the workshop and the ideas behind it. (Thank you!)
2) Meditations on memory and grief, faith and family, prompted by a reading honoring the 97th anniversary of the death of the remarkable Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem. What does it mean to be something and not be it at the same time? I’m being cryptic here, in wishing to allude to how we all feel this sometimes: at home someplace that is not our (original) home. In this instance, I circled around conversations with my then seven-year-old son about how he is Jewish; how I am not and yet how I am, whether formally converted or not. Intertwined in this family amalgam: how a Yiddish writer and a Jewish actor could overwhelm me with memories of my non-Jewish father. Embattled identities; complexities of self, and its construction; and conjoined and disparate cells.
3) The night I met Bill de Blasio—and the intense community of suicide survivors. Mayor de Blasio was compelled to speak about the death of his father by suicide last fall in the midst of his NYC mayoral campaign. Remarkably, the suicide had evaded the media and public discussion for almost thirty-five years. 2014 is the 20th anniversary year (Yahrzeit, harkening back to Sholom Aleichem and the Jewish conversation above) of my father’s suicide, which probably remains the formative event of my life. There are many hopes for Mayor de Blasio’s term; among them, for me, is the continued deepening of conversations on this fraught topic, in contrast with the intense need for secrecy, for many, that persists. I believe strongly that openness about suicide, and its aftermath, benefits everyone. Indeed, this is true for many subjects fraught with taboos, cultural, social, familial.
All of this looking back, memory itself, most often brings me comfort. Perhaps because memory offers the threads that form a story. From memory, the hardest as well as the joyful, we make narrative, and from narrative we begin to make sense.
Here’s to a year of memory; story; and looking and moving forward, while peering back.
~ My latest essay “Philip Schultz and the Perceived Conundrum of the Dyslexic Writer” is up at Highbrow Magazine—on dyslexia, writers, failure, poet Philip Schultz, his Failure and the Pulitzer. ~
~ You can also find my previous piece online, about the wonderful writer André Aciman: “André Aciman and the Writer’s Craft.” ~
~ And, January 22nd in NYC, novelist Roxana Robinson (Sparta) talks with journalist David Finkel (Thank You for Your Service) at The Center for Fiction! RSVP recommended through their site. ~