Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Essays, Ctd.

A couple essays have appeared recently, from which I've excerpted. "34 of 86 Stories" in Passages North:
Myth is born of the urge to name what’s nameless, to convey enormity between finite covers, or to describe one end of the Brooklyn Bridge to the other, even if it was really the Verazanno-Narrows. Myth describes something, or some people, or some event, or some place, that makes contact with vastness. Beyond my Saturday afternoon allowance sagas, my incidents as a wandering child may have been far fewer in number, smaller in scale than I remember—would I really leave the store where my mom was shopping to wander off, or am I conflating other visits to the plaza that I took, later, on my own, as a restless, sullen teenager? If I’ve elevated little journeys to mythic proportions—if I’ve told tales—then I must need them to explain something, a religion of adolescence in which to have faith
An essay wanders. An essay doesn’t trail the straight line that can’t exist in nature but the path that meanders, u-turns, takes lefts, circles back, forgets its origins. An essay sets out down a lane that’s both familiar and not, well-known and full of surprises. When I essay the past I wander, too, bring back objects that I’ve pried from the ground, or found hidden, or imagined half-built in the sky—and by the time I’ve returned home these things have changed, grown impossibly large or small, their transformation undetected until I look down at my hands. And those places where I found them? They’ve changed, too.
and "The Rememberer's Paradox" in Ohio Today:
As a kid I remember recognizing that my family home wasn’t unique. When I’d play at Karl’s house or visit Mrs. Pollack’s for piano lessons in her basement, I’d feel overwhelmed by images of strangers in framed photos, by matchless odors and unfamiliar floor plans, and by the dawning knowledge that this house, too, has a family that stretches backwards through time, through parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, etc., and that this family might experience the same dynamics that mine does. I’d multiply this by the dozens of homes surrounding me, and I’d get dizzy. (And melancholy, before I knew the word.) It seemed impossible that the intensity of family life in my house might be replicated in every house on the street, block, town, county, state, country, continent….
Before an essayist embarks on the journey from “I remember” to “I write,” he accepts a paradox: to get there I must lose my way. An essay that knows its own ending when it begins is less an essay than an exercise in wish-fulfillment. Shifting memories play a crucial role: how I recall last week or the summer when I was ten affects the persona I wish to embody today, the shading I want (even need) as I essay myself as subject matter. Remembering something accepts black holes and dropouts, illogic and broken chronology; a story fills up the holes, links them, covers them over with plot and scene. We recall in ruins, and there are as many ways to preserve or renovate those ruins as there are writers.

No comments: