I wrote my memoir as a hymn to the past—and in order to go home again (an aim, of course, impossible to achieve). A memoir, let’s face it, is homesickness flopping on the page. Autobiographical writing is an effort, like fishing by hand, to grasp the wispy tail of the past and bring it up to eye-level. To capture, flicking out of the sea, the pulsing, skittery kid one once was. To trap the memories before they slip away. In writing the memoir, one seeks to claim those places, and that person, no longer here with us. Writing a memoir is like swimming back across the ocean to those lost shores, or gathering all the flora of those various long-ago islands of experience into a bright bouquet.
As I wrote my autobiographical tale, it was as if I was writing about some other girl I once knew well. I sensed that she might be of some use to me even now, many years later. In Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, Wordsworth writes of the “life and food” he gained from recollections of his younger self and past experiences.
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was, when first
I came among these hills: when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led; more like a man,
Flying from something he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved…
For thou art with me, here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou, my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend, and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes…
I wrote to reconnect to the passionate girl I was (that lovely, passionate child we all were)—the one who sometimes gets lost, in my memory, amongst all the other girls I was: the shy, the worried, the drifting ones.
A resurrection of my old places and my child self, my memoir, my recording, was also my way of keeping the past pure. Odd to say, perhaps, with all my lost worlds, I have avoided reunions, fearful of confrontation with change, of having my memories altered—in the grips of a keen, grim sense that you can’t actually go home again. From my childhood spent leaving countries and—aching, but determined—not looking back, I have wrought a sense of the past as sacred. While it might be fun to have an in-the-flesh meeting, with the lost people of the past—my dear friend of third grade, an old sweetheart or two—I don’t know if I’ll ever have the nerve or wish to surrender my special world, the one Nabokov describes, “seen through the carefully wiped lenses of time.”