And in the morning I found a dry spot and walked to the lake to clear my head from the dust of the heater, the broken scenes from dreams the night before.
There was my grandmother on her chair in the corner by the lamplight. She was facing the TV, had grown to hate it. We turned off the TV and she started talking, and it was the same tape each time: we went from the past to the present and back again, but rarely the future. We said goodbye, and as I grew older and got into my car to leave, I started to wonder if it would be the last.
I lost the feeling, but didn’t feel enough to describe what it felt like to lose it. I took walks but didn’t turn anything up. There was the level of the lake that was lower and the quality of light and occasional fishermen, but it seemed like the life I saw, my world, had reduced down in response to my lack of feeling. Like one enabled the other.
The idea of moving to Dublin felt foolhardy. If I were honest, it was to feed this life-experience need for story material. I had enough material already, I was afraid of the work and confrontation that would come from doing it. Better to keep traveling, moving on.
I went to a memoir-writing class but it put me back in that student frame of mind, back to the early ’90s in Pennsylvania, a version of myself I didn’t want to recreate. And most of us writers had this vague, invisible quality. I sat right next to the others but didn’t take them in. We all wrote, like would-be magicians, tried spells, flickered in and out.
But there was one girl, I noticed her on the street before the class started. I did laps around the block: within a small radius I could visit three apartments I’d lived in 20 years ago. But I spotted her among the others criss-crossing with their coffees and cell phones, pegged her as a memoirist, and I was right. She was writing about abandonment, trying to reconcile that, and there was an urgency about her unlike the rest. And I thought, while memoir/art doesn’t necessarily require that level of urgency, surely it must help? And I’d lost that urgency about living and writing myself, found it wasn’t so easy to pick up.
The thing is, you can’t really appreciate it or describe it until it’s gone. The way to regain the lost feeling is to feel its absence, and if it’s a darkness (the lack of feeling) that comes with it, you have to feel your way through it step by step, to work your way back.
Fifteen memoirists walk into a memoir-writing class, and 15 walk out with different stories based on what they felt.
Some have more stories than others, some just feel it more. The story is not what happened, it’s what you felt.