Please give a warm welcome Liz Coley, author of Pretty Girl-13. She’s here today with a guest post about how she preserves time, and how once she lost time herself, and how it inspired Pretty Girl-13.
Preserving Memories and Losing Time
by Liz Coley
I am one of those people who clings to stories and mementos, who documents my life if only for myself. Like Angie, in the middle school grades I kept a journal of sorts, not in a locked diary format, but in calendar squares. Tucked away somewhere, I have a kitten calendar from fifth grade and a collection of the Kliban wall calendars that came out every year, with cartoons of dumpy, awkward cats on top and 365 squares filled with tiny scrawl below. Like Angie’s mom, I created scrapbooks before the scrapbooking industry turned into the popular art form it is today. I pasted up collages of photos, comics, ticket stubs, programs, and other flat ephemera from middle school, high school, and college. Later on, I created elaborate baby books for my three kids, documenting their early vocabulary, their teeth coming in and falling out, their developmental milestones up to age two, their birthdays thereafter. When the family took trips, I created detailed scrapbooks for each adventure with all the photos, maps, napkins, subway tokens, postcards, hotel chocolate wrappers, admission tickets, etc. until digital photography made the task too unwieldy and the lack of interest on anyone else’s part made it too thankless. I tell the same stories again and again, repeating my mom’s recollections of her childhood, my own, and my kids’ so they won’t be lost. I’ve kept all handwritten letters, the Christmas cards we receive, and the emails in both directions since Yahoo was invented. Before that, I printed them out and put them in folders. I still have my baby blanket, my first pillow, and the little red wool coat I wore when I was four. I treat Memory like a cherished friend, and aid it in all these ways.
There’s a hole in my memory. I’m still trying to figure out where it came from—I guess from the anxious days of 9-11 and the anthrax scare days thereafter. It was a weird period in my life when I often found it hard to breathe, even though nothing bad was happening in my little corner of the world. I gave up reading the comics every morning. I forgot to do things. Somehow I missed over a year of dental appointments, something I’d done faithfully every six months for myself and the kids. I skipped my annual checkup. I forgot to enter an entire year of birthdays in the kids’ baby books, something I later discovered when it was too late to recapture the “state of the child” report. It’s as if I didn’t really process the passage of time and just moved mechanically from day to day in a seasonless, uncalendared period. And I think it must have been during that phase that we learned a particular piece of music in church choir—for the first time.
Some years after, when I was back to what passes for normal, my choir director passed around a “new” piece of music. It was entirely unfamiliar to me. Those of you who sing know that when you’ve spent time mastering a piece for performance, even if a few details like the words slip your mind, the brain stores the melody and the tricky timing you’ve rehearsed. You simply don’t forget music. Music clings deeply in memory and can be accessed even for people who have suffered strokes and lost the ability to speak. Our director’s husband made a comment about having done the piece before, and I figured he meant before they came to our church. Even singing the first few pages brought no sense of familiarity with the words or the melody. Then other people began commenting that they remembered doing it as well. And as I kept sight reading, I thought, “Well, I must have been on vacation or out of town when they did this.” It was as new to me as if I’d never seen it. But obviously I had. Because there on the third page, were notations and symbols unmistakably in my handwriting. I had definitely worked this piece before, and it had left no mark whatsoever in my memory. If you don’t sing, it’s hard to explain how spooky that was—because it was impossible.
When Angie sees irrefutable physical evidence that she has been present for things she can’t begin to recall—scarring, aging, growing, wearing strange clothes—she’s filled with deep, anguished dismay. When she’s told she’s lived somewhere else for three years, a thousand lost days, it’s inconceivable. “How could I not remember all this?!” she wails. I found that confused and frightened wail inside myself on page three of my music, where I told myself to take a breath, sustain the phrase, and look up for the cut-off. How could I not remember all this?
Trailer for Pretty Girl-13
Many thanks to Liz for stopping by today!