frank

God is a DJ

Yeah, I know it’s been used, but stick with me, there’s a really good reason for that title.

I’ve been doing a lot of contemplative thinking lately.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m working on a fresh novel and my mind is in overdrive, or if age is turning me into a more somber, introspective person [no laughing].  More than normal, I’ve been paying attention to details.  The obvious particulars, the little forgotten or overlooked tidbits, and the way they all blend together to make the big picture. I can’t have a conversation lately without noticing how someone’s lips move or their eyebrows arch.  The way people stand in various moods and modes strikes me as just as important as the words they’re sharing, and sometimes tell a different story—occasionally begging you to ask for the real story. I’ve been enjoying this and absorbing, making mental notes for character development and strengthening dialogue, when I realized it’s those same insignificant details that make memories.

Memories are tricky things, and I often wonder how the brain decides to keep this little stupid bit of knowledge but throw that one back into the sea of the forgotten [for instance, I read the road signs for every cabin we passed on the way, but couldn’t tell you what any of them are now.] But this isn’t about that, this is about what makes those memories come to life.  The memory isn’t just a turtle; it’s the way that Frank‘s tail sluiced the water, and how he made me feel that day.  Memories aren’t glossed over and lumped under a heading, like “we walked through the graveyard.”  Rather, they’re made up of the tone and words and the way we giggled because we scared ourselves, and all the little nuances of how we did that.  The details remind you of what made that time special, or that moment important.  And lately, I’ve caught myself digging for details in an attempt to flesh out memories.  Beyond just paying attention to real time details, I’ve pulled out old journals and dug through ancient photo albums.  Yes, I’m purposely trying to tap into a particular period for the tone of this novel and opening myself up to that, but I’ve noticed something about the memories that are slapping me around lately.  I find that the memories are not just of a younger time or in some cliché happier time, but of a time when innocence meant not realizing that you were.

The journals and photos help, but I find that true memories, rich with detail and emotion, are usually triggered by something innocuous and unexpected, rather than forced and pulled like a puppy that doesn’t really want to go in the kennel.  I’ve had smells bring me right back to a childhood apartment in Texas like we left yesterday, rather than thirty years ago.  Certain words or phrases will pull an abandoned thought from the depths of my “not quite forgotten” stores and images will play across my mind like snapshots.  Apparently music is also a trigger of mine.

Truth be told, I don’t listen to music all that much any more. I prefer to write to the sounds of wind and waves, and I no longer clean the house to heavy metal.  The car is really the only place I listen to music. And if ever I was looking for details, I found them today in the randomness that became a pattern on the radio.  Multiple stations, a variety of music styles [because I’m in charge of neither the TV remote nor radio tuner], but they all brought something with them.  This song reminded me of that time, that song of this person, and on and on.  After the first few I thought it was interesting and remembered being a heart-broke teen that thought the radio hated her.  Now I have to wonder if there really is a god and he’s trying to say something through 80s hair ballads, some modern country, and even a hiphop here or there.

Because of one car ride I remember some forgotten details of my forgotten life.  Pink Floyd reminded me that there have been other trips through graveyards, including flashlight tag with the gang.  A happy memory in itself, but one which brings with it a sadness at the loss of one of us a few years ago and a loneliness because I’ve lost touch with the crew in general—I still think of you all occasionally, Wally, John, Tom, Jim, Joanie, Mary, etc., and hope you’re doing well.  Of course, as is the nature with free-reign thoughts, that memory led to another graveyard.  This one visited in the light of day, as my mother took the wheel and drove us around while I researched, plotted, planned and bounced things off her for a story I was working on. Skid Row flashed the big screen from the college cafeteria across my mind, where they had overplayed the video, and that connected to the memory of [a different] Jim tossing pennies at the dorm windows to let us know he’d arrived after hours and needed the doors opened for him.  Which led to his favorite drinks, and Gilby crawling into closet shelves, and making a mess out of my mother’s laundry room sink to turn a redhead into Alice Cooper for a Halloween I’ll never forget. Gilby. I now live in his hometown. I have for several years. Yet I’ve never looked his mother up to say hello.

And it continued for two and a half hours on the way to the campground.  We paused at the Harley Davidson shop so I could find myself a new hoodie that didn’t say Horror-Web on it [and the new one isn’t even black, Nick!], and what greeted me when I got back in the truck? Lyrics that bring back a specific event, and artists that remind me of certain friends—memories and details on every station.  Again, I wonder what exactly the cosmos are trying to tell me.  If I had to guess, I’d say someone, somewhere, is holding a big sign that says, “Pay Attention!”  So I am. To everything. I hope I don’t miss the message.

But we’re pulling into the campground now, so I’m tuning out for a few days. I plan on fishing, writing at the dock, and walking through the woods listening to the echo of recent words as they roll through my head in an attempt to be properly sorted into my memory banks.  The radio will be there when we get back. Or maybe I’ll snag the boy-child’s iPod for that walk in the woods…

Forgotten Memories

As I was walking down the steps to the lake this past Saturday, I thought about the generational vacations I was witnessing and how to blog about them. My (ex)hubby had gone in to work for a few hours and my own children were off at summer camp, but the remaining family segregated themselves as if assigned.  The older generation sat on the porch, enjoying the sounds and feel of nature and happily chatting on any wayward tangent that presented itself.  The younger planted themselves in the living room, plugged into various portable games—a huge difference from when my generation was their age and you couldn’t keep us inside with even the best of bribes. My generation’s habit is to “porch with intent”, as we enjoy the older and try to include the younger, but occasionally walk away from both to hit the lake.  At that moment, mine included fishing gear.  But by the time I had settled in on the dock, the tiny details of my own location took over and I gave no further thought to the generational gaps at the cabin.

I have many fond memories of the cabin, such as walking through the woods with my grandfather collecting samples for a school project.  Other memories have emotionally changed with time and I smile at them now—like my father convincing me at twelve that the Old Ones lived in the woods that surround our lake.  [For the record, I’m still not entirely sure they don’t.] The cabin is a place of peace, with no bad memories [do we erase those from our happy places?] but too often provides specific memories that are forgotten until triggered, like the woodpecker this weekend that caused the long dried out pine to finally give in and topple to the lake with a thunderous crash—which I will forget all about witnessing by the time I finish writing this, until I see a woodpecker again.  My fishing time Saturday was one of those, and I accept this, but for the moment it’s fresh in my mind.

The lake that day was the quintessential canvas of nature, and a picturesque reminder of why I put up with the winters here.  The crystalline water provided a clear view of the tiny black minnows that surrounded me on all sides, which should have been a dinner bell for the larger fish, as they happily darted between my swinging feet and the safety of the dock’s shadows.  Above the surface, a herd of dragonflies serenaded me with their buzzing wings [yes, Bob, the significance of that was not lost on me].  A mother loon used our slough for training purposes as she taught her two children how to dive, much to their squawkish displeasure—I’m sure they would have preferred sitting in the living room playing Ninento DS with the others of their generation. And just out of eyeshot, there was a constant barrage of unattainable fish splashing at the surface to catch bugs.  It was perfect.  The lake belonged to me—the peace was mine alone—as I slaughtered night crawlers in the name of pan fish everywhere.  And then I made a new friend.

The water is high this year.  The dock is literally right on top of it, and if you didn’t know there were stanchions underneath you’d swear it was floating there.  The occasional boat caused slight waves, that washed across the top to soak my lower half and rolled underneath in a rhythmic thump.  Until the thump was accompanied by a clanking sounded.  I turned to locate the rogue stick that had obviously snagged on the low dock and found nothing.  Turning back to my bobber, a large snapping turtle came from under the dock and passed right between my calves.  Frank, as I decided to call him, was in no hurry.  He wasn’t hunting, diving, fishing, or even remotely acting as if he had a plan.  He was out for a casual stroll and paid no attention to the women above him.

Now I’ve had plenty of experiences with the snappers on our lake, two clearly come to mind.  When my sister and I were fishing in the boat and gabbing like loud teenage girls do, a lull in the conversation offered a strange breathing sound that scared both of us as we turned to see twin snappers had paused beside us.  Their heads above water, they sucked air with heavy determination and eyed our stringer with intent.  Yes, we left their territory in a quick hurry, giggling the entire time in an effort to overcome the fact that they’d startled us.  The other was a day much like this weekend, where I was alone on the dock and actually caught one on my fishing line.  Today I would simply cut the line and call it good, but at that time, my sixteen-year-old reaction was to scream bloody murder until my dad came down and bit the line.  Unfortunately, that snapper decided it liked our area and immediately swam under the stationary wooden dock at the shoreline [not to be confused with the aluminum one that we put out each spring that I sit on to fish].  Having much younger brothers that swam near shore, I watched as my dad grabbed first a rake and then a spear and leapt into the water to battle the snapper hiding in the shadows underneath.

This weekend was different though.  This snapper hadn’t interrupted an easily shaken teen, nor was he a threat to swimming children.  Instead, there was something majestic about Frank and his nonchalant attitude.  I sat and talked to him while I continued to toss my line in the opposite direction.  I offered to throw him the little ones, if he would just stay far enough away and not spook the fish I was attempting to lure with waterlogged worms.  And as he ignored me, his tail lazily swishing back and forth, I realized that I was watching a dinosaur.  I found myself suddenly overcome with a sense of awe and appreciation.  I was witness to a casual leftover from when the spring-fed lake was nothing more than a puddle—if it existed at all.  An ancestral remnant of brutal global climate changes and shifting paradigms. Frank not only has memories that he’s forgotten, he himself is a memory of a forgotten time.

Normally, I spend this weekend thinking of why we celebrate Independence Day and quietly contemplating the men that have fought and died for our freedom over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m patriotic the rest of the year and come from a very proud military-speckled family, but I’ve celebrated the 4th of July with a touch of sadness for as long as I can remember.  As a parent, I have traditionally reminded my children that the fireworks, while beautiful in the night sky above the lake and clearly my favorite part of the festivities, are symbolic and that knowledge needs to be remembered in the midst of the oohs and ahhs.  But this weekend, I was humbled by a completely different celebration.  Not of freedom but of survival in general—specifically the survival that comes with change.  And for whatever reason, it continues to resound in my mind.

In the end, Frank slowly drifted out of sight toward his destination, which I imagine was a favorite fishing hole, while I continued to sacrifice night crawlers and contemplate the miracle of that majestic snapper, cataloguing yet another cabin memory to be forgotten until prodded.  A handful of too-small-to-bother-cleaning bluegills and pumpkinseed later, I walked away with an empty stringer.  I hope the dinosaur had had better luck.

Subscribe for Updates

Archives