Friday, May 28, 2010

"paying no heed to the biting cold wind"

The biting cold wind of middle age has swept in, and there is no doubt that my middle-aged brain can't do what it used to. I used to walk into a classroom each year and learn 25 names in 30 seconds; now I need nametags and at least 30 minutes, and the names I do know tend to hover tantalizingly just above my tongue at the moment I need them most. However, I've been noticing a different memory phenomenon that puzzles me a little.

I spent time this week in my daughter's fifth grade classroom talking about poetry as memoir. To mirror the young writers' process, I wrote a fresh new memoir poem for their critique. (I'm sharing below the draft I took in yesterday before their questions, comments and suggestions showed me many ways to improve it.) Once I got going on this poem, I had no trouble at all accessing strong physical and emotional memories of the way my friend and I played. I have deep wells of detailed memory from the years between 5 and 14--not comprehensive by any means, and only sort of chronological--which have fed my writing over the last ten years. But I just allowed my 25th college reunion to pass without me, partly because of a kind of embarrassment about what I don't remember (and what classmates I know seem to remember quite clearly and easily).

Is there really a difference between the way I experienced things at 10 and at 20 and then again at 30? Some difference in intensity, some difference in the quality or mode of recording memories at different ages? Or does it have something to do with writing itself? At 10 I was a writer, but by 15, even, I was recording my life in journals and poems and term papers and letters, and by 25 practically everything in my life went on paper somehow: lesson plans, travel packing lists, favorite songs, budgets....

Maybe it has always been, since 15, the way it is now: I write it down so that I don't have to actively remember it. I decided long ago that, after the kids themselves, our family diaries are what I'd take if the house were burning down. It's a good trick, but it makes me sad to think that in committing these experiences to paper I am perhaps erasing them from my mind.

Indians

We leap like deer
over the rushing sidewalks
of the Eastern Woodlands
"paying no heed to the biting cold wind,"
our oatmeal box quivers full of arrows,
our hair in brave braids.

I am Eagle Feather
and Dori is Laughing Bear
and we are not girls
and we are not white
and this is not 1974.

Laughing Bear has
real deerskin moccasins;
Eagle Feather has
a real deerskin pouch
full of shells that could be wampum,
but neither of us has tasted venison.

We are Eagle Feather
and Laughing Bear
and no one can see
that we are not girls
that we are not white
and this is not 1974.

~Heidi Mordhorst
all rights reserved

5 comments:

  1. Heidi, I've been flummoxed lately by my new experience of memory lapses, so I find it oddly comforting to read this post. I also like the poem! The games we played as children felt realer than real...

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  2. Oh, I am now remembering what it was like to play orphan...your "oatmeal box quivers full of arrows" and names and 1974 and "brave braids" bring back so clearly this true play. (I can't wait to show this to my children tomorrow...) Thank you!
    A.

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  3. "...in committing these experiences to paper I am perhaps erasing them from my mind." Thank you for giving me some hint as to why there might be such huge gaps in my memories!

    (And thanks for reminding me of all of the imagination games I played as a child -- in my favorite, I was a palomino galloping around the prairie of my back yard.)

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  4. Couple of years ago I took a Psych. 101 class. Found out as you age, you still are able to remember things, but it takes more time to memorize new things than it did when you were young. Long term memory is stored in the hippocampus.

    Enjoyed the poem!

    Laura Evans
    who has experienced middle-life moments and senior vacations in mid-life. (Just ahead of my time, I guess.)

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  5. What a fun poem!

    Your preamble about failing memory is interesting. I had never joined the yen to write things down with a release of the need to remember. Of course I do that all the time with to-do lists.

    Makes one want to journal all the more diligently!

    Violet
    (http://vnesdolypoems.wordpress.com)

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