I have been thinking a lot about memory lately. Someone very dear to me had an attack of amnesia this week, and while it has passed, all is fine, it is so strange to be reminded of the fragility of recollection. I have a very poor long-term memory, and have for a long time. Entire events, entire eras of my life lost in a mist. I try and revisit the books and films most important to me about once every year or two, so I can restart the timer on how long it is until I have only the knowledge that a work is something I love, something that formed me as a person, with few details of its content left to cling to. The list of things I have forgotten is long, written in languages I once knew. I try to write things down, I take a lot of photographs, I am lucky enough to have friends who will remind me of our funniest stories by telling someone new. This photograph is from seven or eight years ago, about the distance when my sight gets truly hazy — worsened in that era by gaslighting and abuse and overwork and undersleep and mental health and the wrong medication and self-medication and and and and and. Sometimes I feel like I have made the same mistakes over many times (how can you learn from something you barely remember?), but sometimes, like today, I look back on the past and I realize that I am no longer the person in this photograph. Yes, sometimes I feel desperate and afraid and ill-equipped, sometimes the limits of my own mind close in or bow out like warping metal or a photographic lens coated in oil that I can’t wipe off, yes. But I am stronger now than I was then. I am stranger now than I was then. I am older now, and for that I am grateful.
from an old notebook recently found, undated.
I sound like such a little girl. I suppose that’s what I was. We were all children, once, and we all made a child’s mistakes, responded with a child’s petulance and deflections. I feel differently about some of these things now, some the same.
Mostly it’s just so strange to find myself visiting my past self like a foreign country, a language I’d almost utterly forgotten. Time, time, time. There is always some new heartbreak to turn our lashes to. My memory is poor and life is so long. I am trying to be better at only being a part of kindness on all sides, but I sometimes find it counter to my inclinations.
It’s cold. He makes me so angry. I recent myself for having accepted poor treatment for so long–even convinced myself I deserved it. I didn’t. I’m disappointed in myself, in him, furious at him, furious at myself for ceding my time, my energy. Where’s my cardigan?
I’m broke, scared I’ll end up like my parents, trapped by money, my lack of it and my laziness, carelessness in managing my finances toward my artistic goals being
accommodated pursued to their fullest.
all that money spent on beers I only sort of wanted, time spent in bars I should have spent working or asleep, and I really would have rather been doing those for some of that time and knew it. I feel like I’ve been fucking up. All those applications never finished, or shoddily submitted, all those drafts unwritten, all those rehearsals and meetings I was unprepared for. I let myself blame my job, but what about all those hours I do control? so much time is getting wasted in drama and drinking. and when it’s not my own, it’s others’! I say I’m tired all the time–I could go to sleep before 2am some more nights. My excuses are bullshit.
[—-], not a productive presence in my life, because he is not to be trusted. He just wants whatever ammunition he can find. He is loyal to no one– not to him, not to her. He is a shark, don’t take anything he says at face value. Everyone has their reasons to lie to everyone else, and they do.
several blank pages later:
She is blowing on her fingernails. He takes her hand, and presses down on each fingernail. (Slowly, firmly, deliberately.) His eyes move between her nails (painted) and her face (her eyes on him). It is completely silent. As he moves to her second hand, we hear the sound of water running, of dishes clattering in a sink. Two men sitting on the floor take the lid off a cookie jar and slowly eat cookies. They pass a single glass of milk between them.
On haste, on failure, on the missing word. On when, oh on when, does the mind become still and thoughtful and when do the stories get up and finish themselves? When did it happen that I ceased being a person who writes? How did the text somehow become the thing I knew how to do, and thus left to the last minute, the afterthought of some construction? Here I am, staking claims of sincerity, of direct expression, and somehow I have lost track of the act of simply standing before the room and delivering a text. The forms have overtaken their content, and my voice has been lost. A horse without a cart is without discipline, without a certain kind of use, but a cart when the horse is lost is simply a place to hide, to take refuge from the beasts of night. Somewhere along the way I went safe. You learn to hide behind two dozen small labors to avoid the heaviest load. I talk a lot of game, I talk game so well I never get pushed onto the court, I spin all my clever ideas around like cotton candy, bad for your teeth. A ceaseless monster of attention and tenuous connections, ever-forgetting, ever-cleansing out the past. My institutional memory is a tribute to collapse, and my list of finished tasks is like a barren field on its best days, broken shit glimmering and we can call these fragments things of use. I do not know what it is to take pride, because I do not know what it is to look back on something– the things disappear and I cannot remember them. Palimpsest, palimpsest, my laziness will be the death of me in memories all over town. Let’s take the chance to avoid the fear of failure for five seconds. The words go unwritten because if they are the wrong ones– if they are not only wrong, but carefully, thoughtfully chosen and still wrong, then I will be the last to forgive myself. Let all choices be made in haste, for I’d rather be lazy, scatterbrained, forgetful, than seen to be the long laborer of foolish works.
I must learn to forgive myself my failures before they are made, and let the foul taste of fear wrap itself around my tongue. Remember to revisit the lingering word.
Inspired by this post, A Brief History of Kisses at Midnight, I thought for the sake of exercising my ever-deteriorating long-term memory I would give it a try. It takes me ages to remember, in pieces, almost anything at all, so this might be a little rough, and very inaccurate. There are many years missing.
I went to my ex-boyfriend’s party–not a source of trouble, just a dear friend plus the occasional joke, the occasional oops we had sex again didn’t we, the occasional reminder of why things worked and why they didn’t–but I spent the whole time avoiding another, more recent. When midnight hit I was sitting on the couch, watching everyone dance, everyone screaming out numbers. I thought about choreography, I thought about theft. I could see them both from where I sat, but am fairly sure I kissed no one.
We found ourselves without plans, so we threw a party last minute.We played 1,000 Blank White Cards. When midnight approached, we played Freebird at full volume and everyone started taking off their clothes. At midnight, I don’t think I kissed anyone, but I turned a corner in my apartment and walked into a room full of naked men dancing to Like A Prayer. Spinning their dicks like helicopters to Like A Prayer. It was beautiful.
Back when our friends still had that huge, nasty loft full of weird nights, they threw a party. I remember burlesque, and sticky floors, and making Shakespeare jokes to a dealer I didn’t know who didn’t give a damn. A mirror falling on us off the bathroom wall and not breaking. At midnight all our drunk white girl faces blended together and we gave each other kisses. At five in the morning the man who kept calling and sexually harassing my friend called her again, and I took the phone and told him in great detail how I imagined finding him, rendering him helpless, and cutting his dick off in a long, torturous operation. He never called her again.
In an apartment in Brooklyn where I knew no one, I watched a beautiful woman with long, dark hair play the piano. A young man told me about kicking heroin, showed me his tattoos. There were beautiful pieces of broken machines on the walls, a little fort made of birch branches. One of my idols played a ukulele, covered the Cure. I was given a scrap of paper, told to write something on it, that I’d need it later. I lost my paper, got a new one. At midnight, I dropped the scrap with the word FEAR scrawled on into a bucket full of fire. Later that night, I found my first paper. I ripped it into a hundred pieces and threw it in the trash on a New York City subway platform underground.
“This,” they said at midnight, “is a traditional Jewish song of celebration.” At midnight I was not kissing, I was screaming Beastie Boys lyrics with burlesque artists. We were mostly drunk and no one knew every single word, but MCA was still alive and we were pouring our hearts into this ridiculous cover, and it was probably already 12:05, but “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” is a great song. On the sidewalk smoking cigarettes with a Swiss drummer, I was swept along with the gypsy orchestra, almost arrested in the subway for playing the kazoo, so near Times Square and we were making such beautiful music–not for money, there was no one there, but for ourselves. The night took many convoluted turns, and at dawn I found myself at Coney Island, drinking whiskey and tea from a mason jar and dipping my feet in the ocean on New Year’s Day.
We were both so in love with him, and he with himself, all three of our faces pressed together as the countdown crashed. We all knew what was coming, but for a moment, oh, we could pretend.
In the basement of our parents’ house, I told my baby brother that the world would never end. I kissed him on the cheek, and time continued to pass.
I’m moving again soon. I haven’t even totally completed the last move, boxes stashed in former buildings, boxes taped up in corners. I have lost track of how many times I have moved in the last decade, but it is perhaps approaching twenty. I am hoping, I am crossing all my fingers that I give myself the time to make this new place a home. I’ve now committed to spending at least the next three years in this city–sort of a daunting thought, but also one that is both stabilizing and exciting–and so perhaps it is finally time to stop running around for a little while. Perhaps, however, I’ll hold on to the habit of periodically purging objects, even without the moves to motivate it. I’m a hoarder by nature, scraps and scraps and scraps piled together. I don’t have a bed frame that fits my bed, but I have sheets that fit mattresses of both a larger and a smaller size. I’m not very good at judging what to leave behind. I’ve abandoned beautiful pieces of furniture, odd musical instruments, things I would love to have now, because I simply had too much and whatever was last on the gangplank went out with the bilge. Instead I’ve kept a thousand little useless things.
Clothes that no longer fit, or never did, but that remind me of the man who took them off. A single bead from a bracelet long since broken, the elastic snapping on the wooden floor, the vending machine in Utah. Books I have never read but think one day I might. Cassette tapes of Apollinaire’s poetry being read, and no tape player to play them.
I don’t know how to throw away. I throw away so much. I feel trapped by all my objects, but I miss them when they’re gone, like an unhealthy lover. My memory is too faulty to go back digging through the trash of my heart, and so I need each box like a scalpel to open me up. I remember my dreams better than my days, and so I need this molding notebooks to remind me who I am. I reread my own words and rarely recognize them.
“a girl afraid of her own thighs. she whinnies blonde hair across her face, her rhythm jolting the redhead beside her. the shrouded, effeminate man who joins them, he shows no fear. I picture you dragging me on stage in a bloodied burlap sac, tossing me before the microphone, settling yourself behind the drum kit before I crawl out and break glass.”
Perhaps I should date my papers better. When I find these words floating in a box of a million myriad things, I do not know the woman who wrote them. I recognize my handwriting but not my intention.
“the slight change of time, adapting to your conditions–the tragedy, really, is that this work of mine, the years of slow shifts of the heart, this heard-earned suitability–this labor benefits me alone. If only my son, my son’s sons, could be born without hearts.”