Tiny Events & the Palace of Memories

June 27

I started out thinking about language, about how sentences can be structured differently to describe the same event. I was interested in that. And while I’m still interested in that, it’s not where I want to focus my attention now, though I’m just a short distance into this project. I’m confident this is not the first time my head will turn.

The tiny event, as I want to write about it now, feels like an organizing pivot for an exploration of memory – of time and place.

Each small moment is a door that opens. I enter a room. And across the room is another door. So I cross to open it.

It’s like the Medici Palace in Florence where bedrooms open on to other bedrooms and on like that. But in the walls of those rooms are more doors, made to blend in, so they disappear. And through those doors is a completely other world where hierarchy refracts differently, where one order breaks down and another emerges, where relations shift.

I want to go through all of the doors in this Palace of memories. But I cleave to the hidden doors. Our familiar memories are like reflections in Venetian mirrored furniture in mirrored rooms. Repetitions are a maze into which you can disappear: we tell the same stories over and over, as if our experience is exhausted by only those few narratives.

Why are those the stories? Why those moments out of all possible moments?

The tiny event, if it’s tiny enough, can evoke something else, a place, a time. If I’m honest enough, I can uncover a story I have never told, a story I forgot, a story that was never a story before. But I have to pay close attention, reduce the scale of the observation, concentrate first on the grain and then see where the grain takes me.

I was lying in bed. I was listening to the train across the river. It was screaming and pounding and I thought of the derailment that killed two girls, buried them alive in coal, but spared an historic building; the train divided itself around the house, splitting off on either side, tipping its cargo just there, where they were but should not have been.

Lying in my bed I imagined myself ahead of the train, on the tracks. I imagined myself shattered by the train. I imagined the annihilation of my mind, my memory, as my body came apart. And I thought, I had better start now to tell my stories. Because it will take a long time.

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