Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's 2 a.m. Do you know where your children are? 20,714 of them are on OkCupid.


For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. I mean if you're fifty years late to run into Sonny Rollins, what's the point. I had my camera around my neck but I had been having no luck all day. Started at the West 4th C stop, walked east, could find nothing of interest to take a picture of. Other than people, but I just can't do it. I don't like to bother them. Was blowing my nose all day too. Incredible volumes of mucus each time. I got a cold a week and a half ago and it's still with me I guess. Although now it feels more like allergies, even though I don't usually get allergies in the spring, only in late summer. But today I've felt chalky and dry since I woke up. My ear feels hot. I have a headache. I will take an Advil in a little while.

During my walk, before I got out my camera at Tompkins Square Park, I wandered around the West Village and then the East Village reading from that Kathleen Rooney book, the part where she goes around looking for the former apartments of Weldon Kees. At some point I realized I almost know a Weldon, the husband of an old friend I haven't seen in a long time. Anyway, several of these apartments are on 10th St., so since I was in the neighborhood I thought I would check them out. One of them is right next to St. Mark's Church. Rooney comments that a poet's work becomes better after the poet dies. I thought of the other memoir I'm reading at the moment, the one by Ron Padgett about Ted Berrigan. Instead of one long narrative, it's a series of anecdotes, some a page or two, some very short, like this:

Ted claimed he could run fast, at least in short sprints. Looking at him, you'd think, This guy run fast? No way. And then he did.

This idea of a poet's work seeming better after the poet's death, it reminds me of how when you tell a funny anecdote to your friends about someone who isn't in the room (someone you all know, say), it seems funnier than it would be if the person was in the room. Thinking about people when they're not in the room always seems to improve your opinion of them. Same goes for places. This is how homesickness occurs.

This made me laugh—Ron and Ted are at a cafe in Tulsa circa 1960:

When the check came, Ted said he didn't have any money, could I pay? Coffee was a nickel, pie twenty or twenty-five cents.

I reached in my pocket and took out some change. I had just enough.

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" I asked rather hotly. "I don't like it that you assumed I would be able to pay for you too."

"Ron, shape up. Don't you know it's bourgeois to worry about money?"

"But I don't have any more money than you do."

"So what's that?" he said, pointing to the change I had laid on the table.

"That's not what I mean."

"What you mean is one thing, but what you're saying is, in essence, that you're a tightass."

Now of course, in every memoir I read, I always wonder about the dialogue. There's no way a normal person could remember the exact words of a conversation that took place an hour ago, let alone forty years ago. Unless a tape recorder was present, I know it must always be reconstructed or dramatized. Which I'm totally okay with. I'm not complaining. People complain about inaccuracies in memoirs, but that's silly. If you know it's a memoir, something consisting of memories, you shouldn't expect total factual accuracy. Everyone knows that memory is subjective and malleable, don't they? They should. Seems like it should be common knowledge. And in any kind of literary writing, truth comes before facts anyway. But even non-memoir non-fiction is always slightly fictitious too. True stories are still stories, and in some cases contain less actual truth than a novel.

1 comment:

  1. "True stories are still stories."
    Absolutely.

    I think it's important that the dialogue in memoirs reflects the intention of what was said (as honestly as it can be remembered.) Sometimes this works even better than a photographic recording of what the dialogue actually was, since sometimes the words don't make so much sense out of context of the intimate situation.

    Truth is a slippery slope though. Like how do you know what someone else intended? I think the best memoirs have an almost journalistic lens. As if the actions happen against the frame of a blank world, and the reader is the one who casts judgment, not the writer.

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