Listening Back

I haven’t been able to get these words out of my head today:

We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music.  — Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

My Wordsmith Studio friend, Lara Britt, keeps encouraging me to write memoir.

“But I write fiction,” I tell her; “I don’t write memoir.”

Oh sure, I’ve written some pieces for this blog, mostly in the context of exploring memory in relationship to story. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself. I have to confess, though, that I found it cleansing to “get them out,” those stories, some of them like a painful tooth; it felt good for them to be gone, no longer cooped up inside my head. But a memoir, a cohesive story of my life? No, I don’t think I have the material. Or the nerve. Because it takes courage to remember.

no such thing as perfection

I used to think I’d had a nearly perfect childhood. Nobody beat me. I didn’t grow up poor. I didn’t grow up rich. But I was an only, overprotected child in a household where the grown-up dynamics were complicated, so not so perfect, after all. Idealistic and immature, I did what I was expected to do: got a teacher’s license so I could “take care of myself” if the need arose, married a good boy with “promise,” settled down and had babies and and generally lived what I thought would always be the good life. How can I get stories out of that?

Well, life doesn’t always turn out that way, does it? And that’s where remembering gets hard.

looking back, listening back

I understand Buechner’s “looking back” as an easy metaphor for examining the past. When we look back, we either boldly turn and face the past head on or we glance over our shoulders so memory comes at us a little sideways, a little slant of the truth. Either way, we see visions of how things used to be. Sometimes they’re lovely; sometimes, nightmarish.

My dad's radio / Gerry Wilson

My dad’s radio / Gerry Wilson

But how do we “listen” back? Maybe Buechner means the way we play old “tapes” in our heads: the reruns, the should-haves, the voices, the patterns of thought that occupy our minds and keep us spinning helplessly in one place, not moving ahead but not able to go back, either, which of course we can’t do; we can never, ever go back, not to the previous minute or hour or day, not really, except through the filter of memory.

Too much dwelling on the past and we risk turning into “pillars of longing and regret,” Buechner says. Soured on life. Stuck. Sad. Lost.

deaf to the fullness

But then Buechner makes the turn, important in a poem but also in any good story: “to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music” [emphasis mine]. To shut off remembering is to miss out. Shutting off the past makes us less than what we can be and keeps us from living fully now.

So maybe my friend is right. Maybe all our remembered stories, no matter how simple they seem on the surface, deserve to tell their noisy little selves: to shout out, to sing off-key, to be messy and loud, heartbreaking and beautiful at once. Just like our lives.

Nobody wants to “live deaf to the music.” How do you confront—or embrace—your past?

Monday Discovery—Link to Mixed Metaphor: “Intersections”

Today’s discovery?

I’m keeping it in the family and sharing the link to my daughter-in-law Larissa Parson‘s blog entry, “Intersections,” posted Friday, September 7.  She doesn’t get to post as often as she would like. Here’s why:

Larissa teaches English at a private high school in San Francisco. And she and husband Geoff (my husband’s son) are the proud parents of 20-month-old twin boys!

Busy? 

You bet. But occasionally, she shares her life and wisdom on her Mixed Metaphor blog. In this most recent post, she writes about how her teaching life intersects with her life as a mom–how each experience informs the other. Here’s a taste:

Communicating with our children in a respectful way about what the boundaries and rules are and are not frees them to explore their world. And I’ve seen for myself how amazingly effective this practice is. I’ve become the unhelpful mommy on the playground; if they can’t get on it themselves, they can’t do it (Except for swings. Because swings are so fun.) . . . .

I want to try to bring the same empathy I practice with my kids to my classroom. I want to meet students where they are and understand what’s frustrating about a tough text, and celebrate what’s great about understanding a tough text . . . .

Here are Larissa’s primary “informers” at home.

Twins, wrestling
Photo courtesy of Larissa Parson

Monday Discovery: Mind the Gap

Today’s Monday Discovery: A new series of writing challenges at WordPress called Mind the Gap. WordPress will choose a topic each week that’s trending in the news and issue a challenge to us bloggers to express our opinions on the issue. The focus of these “Mind the Gap” posts is to get us thinking and writing.

Here’s this week’s Mind the Gap question: Has social media changed how you view the Olympics? You can go over and take the poll and express your opinion there.

Here’s Mine

The title of the challenge, “Mind the Gap,” seems particularly apt for today’s chosen topic. I was not as concerned about social media and the Olympics as I was about the obscene amount of money spent to “put on” the games. All through the opening and closing ceremonies, especially, I couldn’t stop thinking, “My God, how much does this cost?”

I know how important it is for the host country to shine, and Great Britain did that. The games–which are, after all, the focus of the event (or should be)–went almost flawlessly which, considering all that could have gone wrong, is nothing short of miraculous these days. The athletes were astounding in their prowess and in their successful and heartbreaking moments.

Soup Kitchen
Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/Gary Alvis

The Least of These 

Here’s the gap that bothers me, though. According to our local paper this morning, the price tag for this Olympics was $14 billion! I keep thinking about how many empty mouths and scrawny bodies all those billions could feed and clothe. Could the world have done with a little less show and a little more charity?

How about, for every gold medal, a charitable contribution of $25,000 goes to a humanitarian effort in the winner’s home country (that’s what the gold medal winners get–taxable, by the way)? I don’t begrudge the winners their prizes. I just wish for a little more awareness and compassion and in our complicated world.

Think about it . . . Maybe you know of a charitable effort as an outgrowth of the Olympics. If so, educate me. And let me know your opinions here!