A very good friend recently sent Ava a present. It was a painting – or, more correctly, a lithograph – that she had done during her time at art school. Apart from the sheer aesthetics of the piece, which is stunning, is the story behind it. It depicts my friend and her two brothers, as children, climbing their way to sleep.
My friend described how her mother used to call them boogaloos (‘Off to bed, my boogaloos!’) and that as a child she imagined that boogaloos were short, fat, jolly little creatures. This is part of her magical family mythology.
All mythology is fascinating. How a thing becomes a myth, how that myth becomes inherited and perpetuated. Each of us have our own myths, vital and necessary to our sense of ego, and each of us are part of families that have their own body of myths which require cooperation from all members in order to survive.
A myth is regarded as a true account of the remote past in the society in which it is told. During my degree, I came across a theory called Euhemerism, which claims that a myth is a distorted account of real historical accounts – and it comes to be that way because the people who tell these stories repeatedly elaborate them until the characters in them become God-like.
This made me think of our personal mythologies. Of the things we reinvent every time we retell them, even rethink them. For someone who dwells often, and happily, in the past, I’m naturally fascinated by how our memories can very easily become our mythologies, and how the people who populate our most treasured memories can in turn become so dominant.(‘And Greg he writes letters, with his birthday pen, Sometimes he’s aware that they’re drawing him in’)
If home is a time, then love is also a time. There are periods of my life – months, weeks, minutes – that feel like home to me. Remembering them brings me home to myself and reminds me of moments where I felt exhilerated. Sometimes I wasn’t happy. In fact there have been moments when I was downright miserable, and yet remembering them is like listening to a favourite song that charges through you and takes you out of time, whenever you hear it. These are our sacred narratives.
When I first learnt to drive, I would listen to the greatest hits of Leonard Cohen and Simon and Garfunkel, and Weezer’s Pinkerton, over and over. Those songs took me through that winter, brought me to America and back, and now whenever I hear them, I feel like I’m home. I feel like I’m there again, and that I’m home
So I’m back to Proust again and involuntary memories. I imagine for all of us, music is often the cause of these sudden recollections. A moment becomes perfect if it is accompanied by the perfect song. An entire season can be summed up by a line in a verse. A whole relationship can be brought back to life by an album. (‘When I think more than I want to think, Do things I never should do, I drink much more than I ought to drink, Because it brings me back you’)
Every day we bring forward ghosts from the trenches of our individual histories and every time we do our histories start to become mythologies. I live with these ghosts willingly because they hold for me the only feelings of home I’ve ever felt. I carry them around (‘i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)’) – and I let them play out scene after scene until my memories are like films – beautiful, unreal and far away.
The act of remembering voluntarily is like mapping down all of the most important conscious aspects of a memory, until you have an exquisite tapestry of colours, sounds, faces, lines from films and books and songs. But being delivered into a memory because of a colour, a sound, a face or line from a film or book or song is like being punched very hard in the heart. Time doesn’t change, but for a moment, you aren’t in it anymore.
I want to make a mix CD for Ava’s first Christmas because, apart from being a pretty cool gift, I want her to have a way to navigate back to times she can’t even consciously remember through music.(‘There’s an attic where children are playing, Where I’ve got to lie down with you soon, In a dream of Hungarian lanters, In the mist of some sweet afternoon’)
I watched a film called Greenberg last night, which was pretty good. This line made sense to me: ‘A shrink said to me once that I have trouble living in the present, so I linger on the past because I felt like I never really lived it in the first place.’ It got me thinking about all of this, again – time, again – which is really the only thing that I always write about (‘time, there’s always time, on my mind…’) and about why I find it so hard to live in the present.
In the run up to my wedding I often thought that I couldn’t wait until it was over so I could start remembering it. I know that must seem kind of sad to some people, but that’s honestly how I feel about most things. I’m not sure you can really develop a sense of your self directly – My sense of self is derived mostly from how I hold myself in the past, where I am more solid and easy to pin down.
Whenever I hear the words to Biffy’s 57 – ‘The sun shone in, the glint in your eye, Your beautiful face, your beautiful face, I held her tight, close to my heart, I didn’t know it would break, I didn’t know it would break’ – I’m 18 again, driving the same roads towards Dollar in the early evening. I have blonde hair and it’s kind of curly. I’m using different shampoo. I’m about to go to America for the first time. I’m a writer. I’m in love. I’m excited, and I’m there, I’m home.