Lately, I’ve been losing my memory. Mostly my short-term memory, but I’m also finding myself losing older memories, too. Sometimes the images or names I’m trying to remember are just beyond my reach. I can remember the color of the walls in my room when I was three, but I’ve been losing names and numbers.
For days, I’ve been trying to remember my hairdresser’s name. I‘ve needed a haircut for weeks, but I can’t bring myself to call and fumble around asking for, you know, the blonde, the one with the tattoos.
There are tons of essays and blogs out in the universe dealing with memory and how it plays into nonfiction. Of course memory is subjective. Of course memory can change over time. I am proof of this now, and in some ways grieve for the parts of my life I’ll never think about again.
I’ve already written a book full of memoir. I hear people talk about writing their memoirs, the plural of this word, at the end of their lives, as if they’re resigning themselves to the idea that they’ll never again have another memory worth sharing. I didn’t take this route, and instead wrote about the most challenging parts of my life right after they happened. I’m twenty-nine, and last year I finished my book full of memoirs.
If you don’t count blog posts like this one, I haven’t written an essay in over a year. The one I finished after I wrote my book of memoirs was published, and since it has floated as a disconnected memory. Over the last year, I’ve finished a book of poetry, and all of the poems are true in the sense that they came from me and it hurts to not be honest, but they are not essays in the traditional way we understand them. When I try to write an essay, I grasp at memories that have the texture of smoke. Lately, I can’t hold them long enough to write paragraphs. This is why I’ve been writing in stanzas.
I spent almost an hour this morning looking for my deodorant, late for work and tearing off sheets, throwing piles of laundry, meticulously inventorying every item in the bathroom, on the shelves, under the bed. I opened up a new one when I had given up; the memory of where I placed the object is lost. Last night, it was an hour looking for the phone I had put down minutes before. Objects, like memories, are never where I leave them.
It’s a side effect of medication, as far as I know. There’s no mystery other than what I did yesterday or the day before. I keep lists upon lists now to make sure I remember what I did each day, but this doesn’t always work. I experience events that cause excitement and disappointment more than once each, not in the way a memory will inspire a feeling.
There are notes now for a book of nonfiction I’d like to start writing soon. It will be a book full of memoir in that I’m researching hard, and plan to add my observations to events I’ve never experienced. As far as I know, this book will not be about me, and I wonder, in the realm of narrative nonfiction, if that is even possible. Maybe it will always be about me; in nonfiction, my narrator’s observations characterize me, the narrator. Observations are subjective; a memorial.
The point, because I swear there is one, is that research has taken the place of memories as the foundation for my nonfiction work. And this is okay. In college we wondered as a group what we as essayists were going to write about when there was nothing exciting going on. How do you craft an essay when you have no experiences of your own to write about? Of course life is always happening, but what if what’s going on doesn’t mean anything? Research can mean digging through what’s left of what I can remember, too.
There’s no easy answer. What happens to memories when they are lost? What if who I am is a thing I forget? Right now I am focusing on memories that others have documented, and I think for now that will be enough.
Nicole Oquendo is a writer, teacher, and editor interested in multimodal compositions of nonfiction and poetry, including multimodal translations of both genres. She is currently an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, and serves as an Assistant Editor for Sundress Publications, as well as the Nonfiction Editor for Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in DIAGRAM, fillingStation, Storm Cellar, and Menacing Hedge, among others. She also runs the websitetimetopublish.com, which posts daily reviews of literary markets.