Writing The Moth from Memory

February 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

Rebecca Fish Ewan blogs about her essay The Moth in Brevity 35 and the complex ways in which brief flashes of memory work in her writing:

I have a recurring dream, like a haunting. For me, there is always a house, a big echo-filled, sparsely furnished house in varying stages of disrepair. The other night it was a Spanish Revival hacienda tucked on a hillside, sold to me by gypsies who, I discovered in the last breath before waking, had never owned the property. I awoke empty-handed. Dreams like that have been with me for years, have become like an old friend, still mysterious and ever-changing, yet familiar as my own skin and sometimes as disappointing.

I have memories like this as well and the one that I wrote about in The Moth is one of those kinds of memories. The night the moth flew onto our porch, I was too little to recognize a moment worth squirreling away, recording details, textures, and sounds with precision. Yet my own mind somehow knew better. It peered out from my eye windows and said: “I must store this moment carefully. She will need to come back to this time and again. Someday, it may even prove useful.”

My mind and my being often behave like this, as distinct individuals with different agendas, ambitions, and priorities. In writing childhood memories, over the years, we’ve worked in collaboration. My mind presents a memory and I write. The memories it offers me, like the recurring houses that haunt my dreams, repeat. “Here take this moth memory,” it says and I scribble as the images reel by. It can take many tries before we make a piece that works. I have a ladybug memory that I’ve written many times, but it’s not right yet. Or one with dying pollywogs. These memories involve my mother, which may be why they need more time to evolve into something complete.

I think that memories need to be taken out and gone through, like a box of old letters or photographs grown dusty in the attic, before one can understand what the mind knew long ago: this one is more than a memory… it’s alive … it still breathes.

When a friend of mine read The Moth, she wanted to know if the moth flew away, if it lived beyond that moment. I can’t remember if it did or didn’t, so saying it did or it didn’t in the piece, no matter how nicely this extension of the story would have wrapped things up, would have made me a liar. I had to work with what my mind could offer and the memory ended in reality where I left it in the piece.

Maybe this is why I am drawn to brief memoir. I have a very spotty memory or a mind not yet willing to share much with the rest of me. As a photographer and poet, I am learning to be contented with these flashes, because they are so saturated and dense, an ample compensation for their brevity.

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