My earliest substantial memory takes me back to when I was four. Once, back in the 1990s, I return to the neighborhood where I lived for that memory, to my then personal big bang origin of memory time. I stood out on the sidewalk in front of the house where I once lived and felt I was nearest to the beginning of time and space I’d ever get. But I was wrong. I have so far to go to find the beginning of my time. Damn, what a rush. Sometimes life is so intense I feel reality is a hurricane in my head, and I’ve been in real hurricanes, as well as mental ones brought on by fevers or chemicals, so I know what it’s like to have my neurons shaken up.
At this moment, I’m jamming to my current favorite song (Howl by Florence + The Machine), drinking a beer and I’m thinking about The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, which I’ve been listening to for over a week. I really dig that title – because Faulkner artistically succeeds at describing a hurricane in his head.
The novel is set in 1910 and 1928, time well before my earliest memories, but now Faulkner’s story adds to my personal memory-map of time. In recent years books by Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wharton, and Dreiser fill in my awareness of America during the years of 1890-1930. They only add to the intensity in my head.
At age four I remember discovering television and began mapping memories of America back to the 1930s. I grew up loving black and white movies. It wasn’t until my twenties that I got into silent movies and jazz and extended my American memories into the 1910s and 1920s. Oh sure, I was forced to take history in school, but it never seemed as real as pop culture and art.
Reading The Sound and The Fury is like hearing a first person account of 1910, from inside Faulkner’s head, with the audio book letting me feel like I’m listening to his thoughts. My sense of time goes back to the Big Bang, but not in a personal way. The only time I tap into the tapestry of personal memory is when I read the words from people of the past. My furthest reach by this kind of time travel is the early days of The Bible. It’s very weird to be out strolling in the evening and hearing words that are thousands of years old, from ancient men living in tribal desert cultures, that existed before English or even the concept of history.
Are my real memories any better than say, those I got from watching Dead End, and experiencing a make-believe neighborhood near the river in a slum of 1930s New York City? Or all my memories of the 1940s I got from reading Jack Kerouac? Or the memories I find in photographs of my father’s family from Miami in the 1920s? Tonight I caught a portion of an old Laurel and Hardy flick that used LA traffic scenes from the early 1930s. I love that bit of realism. I absorbed it into my own memories.
Black and white movies feel just like old memories in my head. I can extend my sense of personal memory back as far as the photograph and film, but it’s hard to go further. The words of the Bible do feel like hearing old people, but they don’t feel like real memories. I love looking at art because it extends my memories back hundreds of years, but beautiful paintings only give a surreal sense of memory. I once saw a photograph from the 1830s, and I thought that photo brought my memory as close to Jane Austen as I would ever get.
Even when I see photographs of myself which are earlier than my memories I feel they are part of my own memory. Here I am from 1953. I wish I could remember this day. I wish I could remember everything. Do you ever feel people in photos are looking back at you too? If I stare at this photo long enough it starts looking 3D. My grandmother here, was born in 1881, my mother 1916. They grew up in Enid, Mississippi, next-door neighbors to Faulkner’s imaginary Mississippi. That might be why The Sound and The Fury is so goddamn vivid, I’ve heard the voices of his characters all my life. They sounded just like my cousins, aunts and uncles.
If there is a heaven I want it to be in the kingdom of my memories, so I can come back and explore their endless realm. What if this life is our heaven? Somewhere, or when, I’ll find my beginning of my time.
JWH – 7/29/9