Sentimentality is both a blessing and a curse.
I’ve demonstrated before to what extent I can cling onto the past in my guest post for Real Bloggers United, “CSI: Chronically Sentimental Individual.” Now, in the spirit of the recently passed Halloween, let’s just say my memories continue to “haunt” me…
But in good ways (hence, a “blessing”), though sometimes they hurt so good (hence, a “curse”). I first conceived this topic last week when my parents’ visit came to an end and they returned Stateside. Though the effect has had a few days to wear off, I remember how I walked home from the tube and almost couldn’t bear how everything I saw reminded me of them because of our recent walks around the neighborhood together. Forget that I’ve traversed that same route for over two years now and between their two visits they haven’t even been in London a total of two months…the memories with them seemed to replace my collective everyday experience. Same went for when I returned to the flat and sobbed over little things like the coffee remaining in the French press that we’d shared earlier that morning. I know, I know…it’s passed now, though tonight I’m jolted with another stroke of sweet sentimentality from home, as I just checked my Facebook messages and saw one from a former student I taught my last year in the States. She was a freshman at the time and is now a grown-up senior about to graduate…simply cannot believe it! My babies! Anyways, she had the sweetest things to say, which made me really pine for those happy teaching years.
In view of such “ghosts” from my past, I find that they appear in some incarnation or another in my writing, perhaps in special homage of these special people and moments. “Write what you know,” they always say, and I do, knowing full well I am clearly not alone. I’m constantly reading intros to novels that state how they’re the “most autobiographical” of the author’s works, and, really, isn’t every work of fiction arguably so? Just ways of telling our truths “slant”?
At the time I started my current manuscript, I was in need of emotional healing to follow leaving home and career, so the tale I began to spin was much more so a “therapy” than an ambition. I didn’t care if it was unoriginal; I let my first chapters draw very much from my own background, which resurrected the spirit of my earlier happiness and allowed it drift and swirl around me in my new atmosphere. The words brought it alive, brought the people and the values back to me and reminded me who I was in an otherwise unfamiliar context that sapped me of purpose. The story certainly evolved from there into a terrain highly unlike anything on which I myself have embarked, but those early chapters gave my protagonist her core, and in doing so assured me of mine.
Among the sentimental inspirations from real life, there are very direct ones that creep up in sentences reflecting the comforting closeness of my family like:
“They weren’t the stuff best-sellers and blockbusters were made of, and prayed they never would emulate what society spent its money on or turned its channel to.”
“Her mom multi-tasked concern for her child with rescuing bacon strips from their spitting inferno. She wore her short, hairsprayed curls like a helmet ready to combat any threats to her family head-on.”
I’ve also incorporated actual snippets from childhood diaries and adulthood travel journals. Plucked entirely out of their original contexts, though, it’s crazy the way they fit in and communicate something entirely new and different and had inspired new offshoots of sheerly imaginative thought, not that from experience. It’s been like dismantling a clock and using some of its gears to operate, ooh, maybe something like the Happiness Machine in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (which, in keeping with our theme here, is a valentine to Bradbury’s own childhood).
It’s all about our frames of reference. No one could possibly perceive the world in exactly the same way that we do individually because we occupy separate space and move differently through it. This gives us our own private reality, then, and this is what writers constantly tap into to construct their fictional realities. And there’s more I’d like to say on this, but am realizing this is getting long, so I’ll break it into two parts. Fair enough? Cool. See you tomorrow.
November 2nd, 2010 at 21:07
In order to lie about yourself, you first have to know who you really are. I agree with you, when you make something up for fiction you always need a frame of reference in order to make it work.
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:16
“In order to lie about yourself, you first have to know who you really are.” That is perfect!
November 2nd, 2010 at 22:22
Now it is MY turn to say: Great minds think alike. I have been going through a period of remembering my past, that has direct bearing on my novel. These were things I had considered backstory, but they actually give the novel a different feel to it. The reason I had not wanted to write about them in such detail, was because some things, were too close to me but I found a way to transfers the feelings and totally fictionalise moments of my life. kind of like a transfer. My female protagonist’s traumas/fears are different to mine but using my own feelings about some things, helped to bring the chapter alive. Interesting…
P.S Love that version of Always Something There to Remind me.
P.P.S What you describe about how you felt about little things after your parents left, is rather touching, I can relate, it’s to do with how much they mean to you, and I know how that feels, when you live across the pond from them.
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:20
I remember from earlier commenting-back-and-forth how you were really reluctant to go to those darker corners of memory. I think it’s really courageous that you did end up delving into it and found such a positive way to do so, one that strengthened your novel without weakening yourself. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how fact can be morphed into another kind of truth? It’s like alchemy with words or something.
And aw, thank you for the sweet comment on my acute sentimentality—knew you’d understand with your dad across the sea.
November 3rd, 2010 at 19:20
It’s a nice type of sentimentality 🙂
Love your comparison to alchemy in regards to morphing fact into fiction…
November 2nd, 2010 at 23:20
Interesting. I’m not sentimental at all, but individual frames of reference or personal perception is an area that fascinates me. It’s a theme I play with all through Lethal Inheritance. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this train of thought.
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:22
Ah, fortunate you who doesn’t get bogged down in sentiment :). I’m with you, perception makes for such intriguing psychological study and can really make for a gripping read. Lethal Inheritance needs to get published so I can read it!!
November 2nd, 2010 at 23:35
To thine own self be true, right? Looking forward to part deux!
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:23
Indeed, I don’t know how to be otherwise—if anything, it’s just easier that way, isn’t it? 🙂
November 3rd, 2010 at 03:49
So glad you had that cherished time w/ your family. Both my parents have gone on to be w/ the Lord and this is always a time of remembrance for me because fall was my Mama’s favorite season and Daddy always made the best chicken and dressing for Thanksgiving. I know I’ll be w/ them again, but miss them terribly now.
Looking forward to the rest of this post.
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:26
Oh, sending a cyber-hug to you as you recollect all these special moments with your parents. Not having them with me anymore has got to be my number one fear, yet it’s of comfort to know how even a simple change in seasons can bring them back in a way. I’m definitely focused on savoring all the time we do have together to stockpile those blessed memories.
November 3rd, 2010 at 16:16
[…] I’m back from where I left off yesterday. Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone in a great deal of suspense, as this post will only reek of […]
November 4th, 2010 at 13:02
Loved the cyber-hug. Thanks.
November 17th, 2010 at 12:25
[…] Characters are “thinly veiled versions of the writer” (sound familiar?), but we must immediately establish distinction between them and from ourselves if they are to […]
December 1st, 2010 at 00:07
[…] a lot in this work that encapsules my own experiences and observations (hence, my “From Sentiments to Sentences” posts), so at the very least it will be a special little time machine for me take a spin in […]