Sunday, August 13, 2006

Reading. on memory and childhood.

I have been dwelling more and more on my childhood lately, and it was only the other day that I realized why. My parents are in town, and we are a family again, the three of us together, one perfect, isoceles triangle. At times I am at its apex, the attention focused (happily or unhappily) on me; at other times I am at the bottom looking up at the continuing dialogue between my parents that I have always been excluded from (which is as it should be). (One time, during a long conversation between my parents and their friends at the dinner table, I turned to my non-Chinese speaking friend and said, "I understand what they are saying, but I have no idea what they are talking about." Words without context are meaningless). And then I realize that I have been looking into the past so often lately because at present we are packing up all the bits and pieces of my childhood home, some of which will follow my parents to Taipei, where they now live, and others which will follow me to my new home, a space in a high-rise building which at night seems to be floating amongst the glittering lights of the city and not anchored in the earth and surrounded by a garden.

Truth is always more shattering than fiction could ever hope to be. I have thought this for a long time, but never more clearly than when I found Dream Me Home Safely the other day. (I had a coupon, and wandered the bookstore shelves for hours, searching for something new. It was the title that caught my eye). It is a collection of essays by different writers about growing up in America, whether immigrants or native-born, Southern and black, white-trash and poor and haunted by tragedy, from all across the spectrum that makes up the American experience. I read it and began to weep.

Some of these writers I remember well for their novels about growing up in America; their own reminisces about their childhood strikes more closely to the bone, deeper into the heart, than their other words. As if actual memories burn more brightly than invented stories. On the other hand, the recording of an actual event renders it into something beyond truth; nothing ever happened as truely as you remember it. Words take on a different shape, nuance, fogged over by the clouding nature of memory. Does anything really happen the way you remember it? Or do we remember things only as we imagined them to be? What was that Minna Pratt said, in The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt? Her mother tells her about the time when she asks her daughter if she was telling the truth. It's one of the truths, mama! Memory is one of the truths.

I had thought to avoid talking about childhood. I remember thinking - or writing - these words: If I spend too long looking backwards, I fear that I would forget how to look forwards, and live. But when I read Dream Me Home Safely I began to understand that the past is something to treasure, to hold on to; that no matter how much we might wish it otherwise, it is where everything began.

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