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 the memories are not just of a younger time or in some cliché happier time, but of a time when innocence meant not realizing 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 who 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.  And apparently, music is also a trigger of mine.

And if ever I was looking for details, I found them today in the randomness that became a pattern on the radio.  Multiple stations, in a variety of music styles, 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 who believed 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 for the song on the radio. 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—as we turned a redhead into Alice Cooper for a Halloween I’ll never forget. Gilby. I lived in his hometown. I did for several years. Yet I never looked his mother up to say hello.

And it continued, this radio of memories, 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 note.

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…

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