Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Lisa Friedlander’s nonfiction piece, Now-ist Meditation on the Memory Couch
Sommer: Is there a difference between remembering and memory?
Lisa: Remembering requires a kinetic engagement in the present with artifacts, imagery, stories, broken bits, and constellations of bodily sensations. In the present moment, we narrate a version of what is remembered—the rehearsed story, an embellished one, the transformational one.
We may remember deliberatively around a campfire, a picture album, a grave stone. Or, an odor, a dankness on the skin, an isomorphic experience may trigger us.
A memory does not live in a single file we can retrieve from a cabinet. Our minds pluck pieces of an experience from different places. Therefore, it’s possible to remember falsely: “I went to the prom in that blue dress, the first time I kissed Johnny.” My friend says I wore the red dress. Here’s the photo to prove it. Imagination automatically fills in blanks. It’s how we can “know” and “see” the fictional mind and body of a character in a novel.
Memory lives as potential. Years go by. We revisit bicycling or playing the piano after a hiatus. Our legs and fingers, though rusty, know what to do.
Sometimes people ask, “I thought I dealt with my father’s abuse. Why is it coming up now? My life is going pretty well?”
I liken this remembering to going up a spiral staircase. The original experience sits on the ground floor. Your first work brought you up one or two floors, but now, at this time in your life, new work invites you to revisit it. Now, you are pregnant, and your husband seems angry about the baby coming at this inconvenient time. You stand on the fifth floor looking down. Is your baby-to-come at risk, with your own husband who, like your father, has unresolved rage?
I’ve observed that sometimes people who are unwilling to face certain difficult truths will claim that memory is too subjective—everyone can have different memories of the same event. How can we protect the truth of an event from those who would manipulate us out of telling our own experiences?
Remembering is subjective, but not “too” subjective. There’s a humorous Buddhist parable about eight blind men “learning” an unfamiliar elephant. Each man tells the truth of elephant from his experience of tusk, tail or side.
Remembering-out-loud involves layers of experience. From the wordless, imagistic and visceral, arises the storied version that bridges us to another. That memory now resides in both of us, belongs to us collectively.
We must hold with respect and dignity the integrity of another person’s truth.
Because none of us can lay claim to knowledge of an absolute truth, we can only have our subjective view. But today, in the political arena especially, we see how a lack of honesty distorts the integrity and mutuality of truth-telling.
I like to imagine a world in which honest differences in agenda, perspective, and personal truth create respectful dialogue to confront multi-faceted problems with attempts to make positive differences for all. Toxic Orwellian “doublespeak” shows no regard for the truths of our diverse voices.
You write about Tara Condell, “These markers on a journey could not, as for others they do, bind her to life.” But sometimes, can’t such remembered markers sink someone into depression? Or is memory, regardless, what helps us maintain vital links to our lives?
Sometimes, remembering does sink the soul, and depression can temporarily erase memories of accomplishment, love, even joy. We must help each other remember, as people do in a grief group for parents whose children have died, for survivors of cancer or sexual abuse. Communities salve, connect us, give shape to our painful memories-in-the-telling. When our horrors validate or give solace to another who was previously isolated, transformation happens, even when grief cannot be excised.
I “read” Tara as a stranger in her own life, slipping off the ship of her life as it sailed by. She functioned, not so abjectly depressed as blunted. Her memories lacked color, like a “sleeping beauty,” waiting for the kiss out of dormancy. I like to think she could have been helped to grab on. I’m an unapologetic, die-hard optimist.
I like how you’ve structured this essay like memory—loosely connected thoughts and images that arise above and fall below consciousness. How intentional were you in crafting your essay to mirror its subject?
Thank you! Writers lay down word-tracks that come to life in co-creation with a reader, and all the other influences that coalesce in that moment. So, you have contributed the “mirror” aspect, because of your brilliance as a co-creative editor and writer.
What else are you working on? Do you write both fiction and nonfiction, and do you prefer one to the other?
Dare I say it? I’m working on a novel. Now I have to finish. Novels are long and hard. But, I journal every day, otherwise my fingers get itchy. A paragraph may turn into a nonfiction essay. Or a scene in a novel. Raising children, working, and writing has led to a life lived in snippets.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Cry. Beat your chest. Tell yourself you’ll never get there. Have that well-deserved pity party. You tried, didn’t you? Hurray! An excuse to eat chocolate, ice cream or potato chips.
Now take a walk, a shower. What will you write next? Where send your poor rejected piece after you bandage its scraped ego?
I love that rejections hurt. Moments of broken-heartedness, even dejection, awaken us to everything human. They plumb our depths, connect us with what means most for us. This material any writer can and will use.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thank you for your great questions, for the opportunity to work with you, and for the honor of having my piece published in The Forge.