Monday, May 2, 2016

The Memory Pool

I completed & submitted the summer reading assignments over the weekend. It's serendipitous that my life is unfolding as it is. Let me explain: In the course of again digging into Hemingway's life, his work, & criticism of his work, which I likely wouldn't have been doing these past few weeks were it not for the summer reading monkey on my back, I stumbled across a few things that made me question some of the comments Dr. Foster makes when he is lecturing about Hemingway.

For some of you, that last sentence makes total sense; for others, maybe not so much.

Don't worry; for those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr. Foster, he is a fictional man in a fictional book I wrote that is in the process of being made perfect for publication (he would appreciate the alliterative ending to that sentence, by the way). I emailed my editor late one night last week & the gist of the email was that I needed to make some minor changes to Dr. Foster's lecture in chapter six, "Miss Barkley," because during the course of recent reading Dr. Foster realized a few of his lecture comments needed clarification. Admittedly these were issues that likely would have bothered no one in the world but me post-publication, but still, I mean, they had to be fixed.

Again, don't worry; while the book may not be everyone's cup of tea, it is not dominated by classroom lectures. I promise. There's considerable dialogue, some very pretty handwritten letters, & even karaoke. 

Anyway, my editor said no problem, to make the changes & just make sure I had track changes on.

Here's where I divulge more about why I long ago decided I wanted to work with someone with more knowledge of the publishing world than I possess. Prior to last week's editing spree, I had never used track changes. Are you aware of this Word feature? I knew it existed, but last week was the first time I bothered to use it. It's not all that fancy. It does exactly that: tracks changes. You turn it on, & any edits you make, including additions or deletions, are noted in the margin. It's certainly a handy tool when you have a 300+ page, 96,000 word document to edit. I know it backwards & forwards & still get lost at times. 

After my late night of editing, I returned to the document the following morning to review what I'd done in the midnight hour, which I could easily do because the changes were all noted there in the margins. Here's what Dr. Foster said yesterday, & here are his claims today. Here's where you opted to create a new paragraph. Here's where you obsessed over a comma.

Naturally the experience made me think of the above quoted line of Fitzgerald's. When he published it, the infamous line that concludes The Great Gatsby, I don't think Fitzgerald had any idea how technology would one day simultaneously thrust us into the future, while bearing us ceaselessly back to the past.

Technology makes everything easier it seems, & that includes accessing our past. Facebook is constantly throwing our past in our face; literally every day there are reminders of the past that you cannot escape (unless there is a way to delete or disable the "See Your Memories" feature of which I am unaware). I cannot tell you how many morning cups of coffee have been baptized in my tears because Facebook caught me unguarded once again, thrusting pictures of my once-tiny, squirming babies in my face. 

Satellite radio makes it possible for me to listen exclusively to music from the 1980s, should I choose (& often, I choose). I cannot even tell you the name of one person considered a country music singer in this, the year 2016, because my country music is as it has always been, sung by George Strait & Garth Brooks, accessed with a few swipes of my finger on my iPhone. I turn on my television & watch Frasier or Gilmore Girls on Netflix, shows that haven't aired live on television in about a decade. 

My iPhone is filled with things like this:

And this:

On Wednesday of last week, Reagan carried a small stuffed zebra to school with her. Every Tuesday night since August, we've done the Tuesday night show & tell scramble as Reagan's class marched their way through the alphabet (occasionally it was the early Wednesday morning show & tell scramble). I couldn't believe we'd finally made it to Z, & then, THEN, I picked her up that afternoon & discovered this in her book bag:

In a little over a week, Reagan will officially graduate from WEE School. The only thing that might stem the flow of tears is that I know there will be approximately eight more graduations, given that they seem to have one for every other grade now. 

You know what one of my first thoughts was? Having never before considered her year of high school graduation, I thought, "She'll graduate high school exactly one hundred years after the publication of A Farewell to Arms." Please don't judge me. I mean, what a year of celebrations that will be.  

The emotional roller coaster continued after the Wednesday mid-afternoon graduation photo incident. 

I finally met my nephew Wednesday evening. Perhaps more eventful was Reagan & Henry finally meeting their cousin. 

Thursday, I taught my last class at Delta. There are still things to be graded & official paperwork to be turned in, but I shall impart no more knowledge.

No, I didn't cry. I am not particularly sad to be leaving, but I do leave a remarkably different person than I was when I first came to campus five years ago, five months pregnant with Reagan. I had never  birthed a child & didn't even know how much I wanted to blog, write a book, or join a book club. I wasn't rearing kids, I wasn't writing anything, & the reading I was doing was minimal, & so I can't help but wonder, what in the world was I doing? Sadly I do recall having a lot of time to watch an embarrassing number of Law & Order: SVU episodes. I was also heavily invested in the soap opera I've since given up, Days of Our Lives. To quote Elphaba, I believe I have been changed for the better. 

You know, I should quit now as it's always a win when you find a legit way to quote the Wicked soundtrack, but we've yet to reach the climatic conclusion of last week: the hours we all spent at my aunt's house Saturday. 

Numerous aunts & cousins gathered Saturday afternoon to eat pizza & participate in general merriment. My Papaw was there. He will, the Lord willing, turn ninety in September of this year. He was born in 1926, the year The Sun Also Rises was published. 

**As an aside, I have to tell you that at dinner Friday night my mom let it slip that she was so looking forward to today's blog. She was assuming, you see, that given the week's events & all the Texas relatives come to town that I'd take a break from sharing the bizarre innards of my head & post pictures of the children. I hope this is satisfactory to her. I am admittedly taking a little mental breather since the summer reading assignments have been submitted, but as you can tell from the odd references to the publication dates of Hemingway's novels, you can take the English nerd of out the classroom, but, well, you know. Aside complete. **

They began with a pizza picnic on a blanket in the garage.

Papa took them on a tour of my aunt & uncle's RV.

Roaming post-RV visit: 

Photo credits to my dad as he took most of these while I sat on my rear & gabbed, though I was being useful at least some of the time:

Perhaps nothing bears you ceaselessly back to the past like holding a newborn, remembering when your own were that small. No, no that's not true. Nothing bears you ceaselessly back to the past like my grandfather. He is a remarkable man. He's seen a lot in his nearly ninety years. He enjoys recounting various memories to anyone willing to listen, & the older I get, the more I understand this tendency. His life, at least this side of Heaven, is predominately in the past. The five years he's lived without his wife are but a moment compared to the many years they lived as man & wife. His favorite hymn is "Precious Memories," & he clings to his memories the old-fashioned way. He has a few photographs, but no iPhone full of photos, no Facebook reminders of what was happening in his life five or ten years ago, & even five or ten years ago, at eighty & eighty-five, his life was predominately in the past. Were he on Facebook (which he is not), Facebook could not retrieve most of his significant memories.     

While he doesn't read many novels (his favorite is The Shepherd of the Hills . . . & he wants a copy of my book *insert internal scream!*), I think he might appreciate some of the books about which I am always yammering. They reflect & explore his tendency to recall the past, to tell stories, to be bound so tightly to past events that you know without a doubt that is where his mind is nearly one hundred percent of the time. He's like an older, more genial Jay Gatsby. Who doesn't sell bootlegged liquor or throw lavish parties, of course. 

It's understandable, given his age & the losses he's suffered. He can recall depression-era events with clarity. He can tell you specifics about his time serving during WWII. He's said goodbye to many, many people who now live in his memories. He met his great-grandson Saturday, saw him with eyes that have seen things I cannot imagine, things he sees all the time, no doubt, as years & years, reels & reels of memories play on repeat in his mind. I cannot fathom ninety years of memories.

I've been thinking a little bit about generational memories, about the collection of memories from which people of a certain age pull. A few weeks ago I shared with you the epigraph in The Sun Also Rises. Taken from Ecclesiastes, it reads: 

One generation passes away, and another generation comes; 
But the earth abides forever. 

The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, 
And hastens to the place where it arose. 

The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; 
The wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit. 

All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; 
To the place from which the rivers come, 
There they return again. 

This is the first thing I've asked of the AP students:

Consider the novel's epigraph, Ecclesiastes 1:4-7. Obviously Hemingway took the novel's title from these verses. Find another passage in the Bible (it can be one verse or several) that echoes the meaning in these verses, and perhaps even suggests an alternative title. 

I sometimes think entirely too much about epigraphs (if a novel has one) & also about titles. These pieces of information can potentially speak volumes about the author's state of mind when writing, about his or her overall goals for the work. I really adore this epigraph from Ecclesiastes. I might blow it up to poster-size & plaster it on my classroom wall. 

Come August, I want to talk a good deal about Hemingway's generation, the generation that fought the Great War. It profoundly influenced them. It gave rise to a lost generation, a phrase attributed to Gertrude Stein which is the other epigraph in The Sun Also Rises. What in the world do you do with yourself after witnessing what so many of them did? They didn't quite buy the idea that you lay your weapons down & resume life as usual. Their memories haunted them; their past was their present & their future. A few of them turned their anguish into literary masterpieces.

The students I'll soon meet were born circa 1998. I was a senior in high school. I had no cell phone. I graduated high school having never, I don't believe, accessed the Internet. I was twenty years old on September 11, 2001. These students have no memories of life without a cell phone, no memories of life without the Internet, & they have no memories of September 11, 2001, because they were toddlers on that Tuesday. They are Millennials, & some argue that they, too, are a lost generation, victims not of the disillusionment that follows a world war such as Hemingway & Fitzgerald (& my Papaw) witnessed, but of technology, of ease, of an increasingly pervasive worldview that lauds the gods of money, of self, of pleasure. 

So you see at this point in the lecture I will segue into The Great Gatsby, & we'll discuss the cyclical references in Hemingway's epigraph & we'll talk about how technology has shaped them, & what remains the same regardless of gadgets invented & the passage of time (hint: it's human nature). Hemingway understood human nature, which is one of the reasons he chose the epigraph he did. 

In addition to human nature, Mother Nature also remains the same, & this too is echoed in the epigraph Hemingway chose. I believe that Hemingway was desperate to believe in a God that created it all, oversaw it all, a God who set in motion the path of the sun, the wind that whirls about continually, the rivers that run into the sea that is not full. His internal struggle with deity is on full display in A Farewell to Arms, as is his internal struggle to believe there is more to life than being a small cog in a large, indifferent wheel that eventually swallows us all & callously spits us out. Perhaps we'll discuss that further another day.

Every generation is shaped by certain events, & haunted by certain events. For Hemingway & Fitzgerald & their contemporaries, it was WWI, followed by the decadence & disillusionment of the twenties. For my Papaw, it was, & remains, The Great Depression & WWII. My parents grew up in the tumult of the sixties & seventies. 

Whether it is war or economic hardship or political turmoil or technology (the very thing that allows  us to access memories instantly) that shapes a generation, forming & then later haunting their memories, I believe the universal idea of generational struggles, of entire groups grappling with their collective memories, was central to what Hemingway attempted to address in The Sun Also Rises. How I wish he were here to comment on this current generation being shaped by the same technology that constantly reminds them of their past. He would love that. 

I feel I should admit that technically, I am a Millennial, barely making the cut-off with my birth in 1980. I don't think I fit in well, though. I had no computer my freshman year of college. I spent my high school years wearing out a cassette tape of The Bodyguard soundtrack. I seek opportunities to say, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." I remember a time when the national debt was not trillions of dollars. 

Well, this ended up being a bit more involved than I initially planned. The initial plan was, "Here are some pictures from this weekend." Possible topics for next week include All the Light We Cannot See, which the book club discussed last Thursday evening, &/or my summer to-do list. So obviously a win/win for you, dear reader. 

Welcome to May. I look forward to our summer interludes. We'll laugh together, swelter together, & collectively count down the days until I step foot in the high school classroom. I am secretly hoping students are not really reading this blog, at least not closely, otherwise I'm not sure what we'll do come August because by then I'll likely have said all I have to say about their summer reading assignments.  


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