I deal in memories

As someone who writes non-fiction, who grew up in a family of storytellers, I reflect a great deal on the past as a way to make sense of who I am,  where I'm from, and how I take my stories forward. I deal in memories, swim, and dwell in them. Because my Grandmother is losing her memories, I am even more aware of how what we remember shapes us.

As the older sibling, my memories of our childhood are strikingly different from my brother's. When I recently found an audio tape I'd made when I was 10 or 11 playing the piano and pretending to be a newscaster, my brother said he remembered me making those tapes. I clearly did so; I have the tapes to prove it but I have no recollection of where I was or of making the recording. He said I used to read the newspaper and highlight stories I would later record as part of my newscasts. I don't dispute this; I just do not remember it.

Lindsey's post  got me thinking about how certain moments don't let go of us; we go over again them like a photograph or film in our mind, slowing, rewinding, focusing in on what we are wearing, the smells we recall and the stories that emerge from snapshots strung together. Other times they sneak up on us, flashing through our minds suddenly. Music has figured so strongly in my life that I get lost easily, remembering through songs. Some moments are small but significant while others feel big while they are happening. 

Some moments, however, are more like a piece of a dream I remember without much context. They float, untethered in my mind.

My brother's homemade Halloween costume, a lion, the year we went trick or treating by ourselves. I have an image of him, standing in my mother's closet, all suited up roaring and grinning. I don't, however, remember what my costume was.

An airport corridor where I walked away from someone I loved. Each step I took, I knew was a step away from a life I could have had and toward something else entirely. I remember the weight of my backpack, the feeling of each step, the smell of the freshly replaced carpet and the bright lights that felt hot on my face as I walked to the plane. It wasn't until I reached the door and noticed the flight attendent's face that I realized I was crying.  

A perfect summer day, driving across Mobile Bay, windows down, blasting Foo Fighters and singing about heroes and changing our minds about our destination, ending up wearing our beach attire into a five star hotel where we caught a few ugly glances, and drank lots of champagne. 

Playing in the woods with my friend, Annie, telling ghost stories on our way to the old cemetery. We figured some of those graves never had visitors, so we picked flowers along the road and laid them on untouched, bare graves.  We made up stories about the pople buried there, about their lives and death. There is a moment I return to, standing at one of the graves after placing wildflowers there. The name is hard to read; I think it says Ellison. It is one of the oldest graves in the cemetery and I am careful where I stand. As obsessed as I was with ghosts, I was mindful that I was in a place of spirits. I was never scared there, not the way I was in the newer cemetery with its gleaming marble. Somehow the crumbling stone was comforting. I remember thinking, "nothing lasts, not even gravestones." 

Diving into the pool during swim lessons to save a frog who was already dead, and the sense of sadness I felt when I realized it.

Sitting in my mom's car, feeling my teeth free of braces, all slick and new, happy that I could popcorn and toffee and caramel again but a little disappointed that I would no longer have the time I spent alone with my mother on the drives to the office in Selma, where she let me choose the radio station and didn't disparage the music that played. I think she even liked some of it, particularly Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. 

The moments in kitchens where I spent so much of my life have become a kind of cornerstone of the stories of who I am, but these flashes of memories have made me, too. This fantastic line from a Band of Horses song runs through me often and I think it is true of memories and of what we remember: "We are the ever living ghosts of what we once were." 

#reverb11: bravery

Prompt: What was the bravest thing you did in 2011? It can be something big or small, did you survive heartbreak? discover a hard truth? Learned to let go? (Hope Wallace Karney)

I'm intrigued by how we define bravery as a culture as well as on an individual level. I remember a close friend telling me that he was always so impressed by how I was able to small talk with people, to work a crowd at department functions or poetry readings. "I wish I were that brave," he said, which took me aback because I certainly didn't feel brave when I talked to people. It came easy to me. To him, however, it was something to just show up; he felt uncomfortable in crowds. I could not understand this. I didn't think that connecting to people was a skill or something one had to work at or work up courage for. I just assumed that everyone had the desire and capability. Silly assumptions. 

Last summer, I was thinking about bravery as part of a Mondo Beyondo assignment. I wrote about curiousity, about being authentic, embracing every moment and truly being a part of one's own life. I created a video where I quoted Seneca who said, "Even to live is an act of courage." There's such power in his statement for all of us, I believe. 

In 2011, bravery came from believing in myself, in my relationship with M, trusting my happiness and facing disapproval and disappointment. 

I believe it is brave to love. It is brave to have someone love you. And for some of us, it's downright terrifying. When I met M seven years ago, I was in a weird emotional place. I was very afraid of my feelings for her because she made me want to be vulnerable. One day, we were driving in the car and at a stop light, she looked at me to say something and in the moment I couldn't breathe. There was something in her eyes looking into mine that froze me; it made me want to tell her every secret I'd ever held. I was completely enamored with her and I wanted to be able to love her without losing myself in her. I was hesitant because I didn't trust myself to be good to her. I've never been a relationship-type person, or I thought I wasn't. I created distance with most of the people I liked or was attracted to. I saw relationships in week-long terms. And then I fell in love. 

Before I knew what was happening, and after a terrible first start where I broke up with M in an email, this amazing person was brave enough to love me back. Loving her is easy. Showing her I love her, thinking about her before I think about myself, taking her feelings into consideration, being raw with my emotions in front of her, that's the hard stuff. Our relationship is a rhythm. Sometimes it's more discordant than others, but I can't imagine it any other way. We just make sense together. I make better sense with her than I ever did before. 

I've become pretty obsessed with Ellie Goulding's cover of Elton John's "Your Song" and I love the lyrics which say,

I hope you don't mind. 
I hope you don't mind
that I put down in words,
how wonderful life is
now you're in the world. 

I've talked about getting married a lot in these reflective posts. It was a huge part of 2011 for me. What I might not have mentioned but you probably guessed if you watched yesterday's video, is that we had a pirate wedding at the bowling alley. If bravery is being yourself, then a gay, pirate/bowling wedding is brave. Bravery is also about putting yourself out there, putting your heart, your relationship on display. It is brave, in the face of so many break-ups and divorces, to commit to another person. It is brave with the political atmosphere, hate speech and bullying in the world today, to celebrate a same-sex relationship. 

I believe it's brave to love. I believe there is no other way to love than to be vulnerable to another person, to ask someone to take care of your heart, to tend to your relationship. You have to let him/her see the darkness in you, to be willing to battle it together. 

The lyrics from John Mayer's "War of My Life" seem appropriate here. 

I've got a hammer,
And a heart of glass
I gotta know right now
which walls to smash

Being brave is about taking risks. With the exception of putting your body in harm's way, I can see no bigger risk than opening your heart, smashing down walls, being yourself.