In an attempt to rest my very tired logical brain (the left side of my head actually hurts, oddly enough), I have taken up the call of a fellow blogger, Lucy’s Works (link), to write some flash fiction. The prompt is this:
Who are we then, if not for our memories?
A couple of disclaimers:
- While I have borrowed some names and understandings from my real life, this is fiction. Any resemblances to real life people and situations will be purely coincidental.
- I make a few cultural references that are meant to be the narrator’s attempt to make sense of a confusing world that is on fire with conflict. She reaches beyond the flawed and problematic patriarchal western worldview to do so.
- These references are drawn upon for insight, with deep appreciation, and do not claim any of them for the narrator’s (or writer’s) own. They are not used for any other benefit than this: to narrate a process of reaching for insight and understanding beyond what is allowed within a status quo North American reality. The story does not mention so, but imagining this difficulty is very much inspired by Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach.
- I’ll leave some links to these cultural resources at the end of the story for curious folks. Blessings to all who offer the insights they do, very much including these.
- It would be my (the writer’s) greatest pleasure for these marginalized worldviews to be aided in becoming more visible as a byproduct of this fictional imagining of a western mind drawing upon them for direction. However, they will of course be refracted in this mindframe, so please look to the sources for the best picture of their true value.
Without further ado.
A Story: Memories of the World on Fire
“Stories are wondrous things. …And they are dangerous.”–Thomas King
Little Billie Jean King pushes her forehead against my cheek and touches my arm with her paw.
I can’t remember anything for more than a few seconds these days. I feel like I can’t see, or is it more like being adrift in the middle of the ocean after falling out of a burning plane, scorching in the sun, tossing about in the waves?
I lie in bed waiting for my mind to wake up and willing it to stop throbbing for no apparent reason.
“Who are we if not for our memories, Billie Jean?”
Same same, I think.
A failing working memory–normally like a boat across the ocean from one comprehensible moment to another–is disorienting and downright scary. I have nothing to put my feet upon, and even when I think I’ve found a footing, the horizon goes dark. Who am I? Where am I? I was going to do something, but now I can’t remember what it was. I had a glimmer of understanding, and now it’s gone.
I now stand listlessly in the kitchen, head cocked slightly to one side. My mind tosses and turns.
Sometimes I think, well, what does it matter anyway in the grand scheme of things? I am relatively safe, still have a home, and have food in my fridge, etc. But then I take a step or two and forget that I’m ok and struggle to touch down again.
How did I get here?
That I know. Pushing too hard, persisting too long, fighting the good fight against too many odds, aiding and abetting, doing right, making right, and not letting up.
You’d think knowing how I got here would form a track for me to follow through on, but this knowing is too abstract to form a logical path. I’m also not so sure logic will lead me true from this point. And in the anxiety of confusion my mind pushes away the sleep it needs–it wrestles with smoke and reaches its feet down and down into a bottomless ocean.
And here I am again. “Everywhere you go, there you are,” a wise woman I know says once in a while. How true, I think.
But where is here? I could say that here is the kitchen; here is now, June 3rd 2020; here is standing in mismatched socks under LED light.
My mind goes dark and I draw once again an anxious blank. What was I onto again? As my cooler friends would say, IDK. Also possibly, IDC.
“Well,” I throw my hands and eyebrows up in the air, “I might as well make myself a coffee and have a cigarette because clearly these will help.” I know what I really need is a nap, but I smoke a cigarette anyway, and harbour the ensuing anxiety.
Yesterday I had a friend, but today he is gone.
People tell me, and I know, that I need self care, but the world wants more of me than this, and I can’t reconcile. I forget who I am in the sea of voices and tidal waves. This last one is a tsunami of urgent uprising that has turned me, tumbled me into forgetting, into remembering only the tidal wave itself and my tumbling.
I reach for something to hold onto. “What?” …something real. “Real.” Like a pomegranate or a knife?
But does trying to grab hold of something concrete in this violent mixing, this clashing of needs and forceful requirements, of violent enforcement and rightful, rebellious rage help me to remember, or does it simply rip me apart?
Billie Jean smiles with her eyes.
I feel like I need to let go of the concrete and cling to Kindness and the Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, and forget who I am for a spell so that I can remember that I am not only smaller but also much larger than this tidal wave, and the concrete ground will follow from this.
I must create, reinvent myself through rest and forgetting how to be torn between forces.
“That’s just it, isn’t it, Billie Jean?”
I must nap, fall off from this torment, this torrent, and rest in my own ocean, and speak to the otters, sea ducks and turtles, listen and receive the earth of Life they have the power like no one else to bring up from beneath all to the soles of my feet, to rest in gratitude and in the context of Life upon the back of the turtle.
Forget to remember, and remember to forget who I am. Woman. GoC desk jockey. Smart. Chronically ill. Burning up with the just anger and hurt of the world.
Billie Jean stands on my chest. Now back in bed, I have this cooling cascade of ideas…
…to let my body and sole soul bring me down and then back up again to rest upon the divers and climbers of the deep, to learn and receive and be reborn, while the world mind ocean tosses and bucks. Our Indigenous foremothers and fathers know true. I am white, but no less, they came before me. This is true.
The land I stand on, stolen not only from our Indigenous Elders but from Life itself, has liquified beneath our forceful feet.
It’s still turtles all the way down. This is also true.
Somewhere I hear an imperative: “Shift the scorpion off your back, and let him sink or swim, let the poison from his sting dispel in your ocean and destroy its own hook in your back. Let it destroy your dependence upon carrying him to reach his shore.”
“Hmmm,” my far less deep and open mind responds. “Ok. Let me think on that while I nap.” And again a door opens somewhere in there… “Forget the tidal wave world. Let me remember the turtles and my own dark sea of stars.”
I think, as if for the first time, “Who are we if we do not remember?” Good question. Perhaps the most important of all questions.
I let out a heavy breath and settle onto my pillow. “Ok, Billie Jean, down I go.”
And little Billie Jean King Sphynx rested beside me and purred.
- The narrator’s psyche perspective is largely inspired by Eden Robinson’s novel Monkey Beach, in which the main character experiences disorienting turmoil in the clash of worldviews–Indigenous v. western–in which her spiritual experiences, which in fact lead her to truth, are pathologized. The Christian belief in a man who died and came back to life then went to an afterlife world where he continues to reach out to people who invite him into their hearts is seen as religious faith that has social, spiritual and psychological value in our world–BUT Lisa’s visions of her grandmother, for example, are seen as signs of mental illness. This is extremely confusing to the main character and seems to disrupt and distort what would otherwise be experienced, valued and integrated into her psyche as a powerful, healing spiritual experience. Lisa must follow her spiritual experiences to her own conclusions, but the position she is in, being pathologized rather than supported, effects significant vulnerability.
- A lot of the imagery in this character’s mind comes from the story of “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky.” There are various tellings of this story, and my understanding is that it is more of a living story, alive in oral tradition, than reified (pinned down, clipped, and somewhat deadened) in print. I learned about this story from Thomas King’s relatively recent novel The Back of the Turtle. King’s telling, even though in print, does a great job of resisting reification by delivering it through dialogue that discusses the fact that there are many different versions. The novel as a whole is seen by some as a sort of “Reimagined Mythology and Environmental Renewal.” For more on the importance of the stories we use to make sense of ourselves and the world, King’s book (and also CBC Massey Lecture 2003) The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative is imperative reading/listening.
- “Kindness” is a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, which rings with remembrance of our own humanity amidst the painful realities of modern life. Also see my post Why paint rabbits and puppies?
- “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” is a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marques, which captures beautifully our human need to allow magic into our lives in order to be able to draw water up from the depths of the earth, for flowers to grow in our soil, and to be able to build houses large enough for our whole–not just logical, scientifically, economically minded–selves. Also see my post Why paint rabbits and puppies?
- And of course “Wilson!” is a reference to the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks.
- There are one or two other references that I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusions about. There may be more. Who is to say? The mind is a slippery hamster.
Love and best wishes,