Failure of Memory–Another Post about Process

So much of my writing seems to be remembering–or failed remembering. Was the porch on the Abuelitos‘ home concrete? And–was the concrete covered with an elaborate rug I tripped over all the time? Did I spend the weekends there with my cousins a few times and did we play kick ball in the backyard? Or was that another relative’s house? Was it the Baros house or maybe my Aunt’s house where I was shot in the head with a BB gun? Was I 12 or 13?

These are questions I feel consume my time and my work and writing. I do this on the phone with my sister sometimes. What was that song Abuelita sang to us when we visited her in the nursing home? What street was it on? Were you married then or were we in school? Was I 12 or 13? Was I older?

In my mind the most interesting things happened to me when I was 12. Or at least I think.

This summer my sister and I did this quite a bit. Especially after the death of a kid who lived in the old neighborhood. His name was Everett, right? I remember my sister was in a fist fight with him. On the front lawn or maybe it was at the park? I remember she wailed on him and he had to run home so it must have been on the front lawn. I remember he always wore a green sweat shirt or maybe it was grey.

I do know he was disabled. His mind immature and free and the older girls didn’t want to hug him or dance with him but he tried. He also tried to kiss them. We felt sorry for him–didn’t we? We never teased him did we? Did I hold his arms while you punched away? Well, I do feel sorry now anyway. And I hope we never did hurt him knowing that he died in a home in Colorado before his mother and father. The newspapers told me some of the facts.

I remember after that incident we crashed our bike because we never had a car or someone to drive us around so we had to ride that old ten speed of my sisters. We rode into a parked car and my sister skinned up her leg. Didn’t she? Was it payback for what we had done. Or maybe that was another time?

It all comes out in the writing and, lately, I’ve noticed so much of creative non-fiction–and even my fiction–is preoccupied on this idea of whether or not life played out the way we remembered it. The way we remember ourselves, instead of who we actually were.

In Tobias Wolff’s memoir In Pharaoh’s Army he writes in the chapter entitled civilian about a particular Vietnam war story he wants to convey to a bar audience of his old friends and a new love interest. He writes:

How do you tell such a horrible story? Maybe a story shouldn’t be told at all. Yet finally it will be told. But as soon as you open your mouth you have problems, problems of recollection, problems of tone, ethical problems. How can you judge the man you were now that you’ve escaped his circumstances, his fears and desires, now that you hardly remember who he was?

And it seems odd to me that storytelling and lying or spinning–whatever we want to call it–happens in our fiction and non-fiction writing so rapidly and so quickly we perhaps lose all truth and create all truth. Create identity. In class we define the perils of subjectivity and the need for objectivity in non-fiction–in writing in academic writing in general. But as the instructor–and as a writer–I realize how far objectivity is from the creative literacy. How the creative literacy is so dependant on lies we tell ourselves.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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