My mom is a voracious reader and instilled in my siblings and me a love of reading and books – real, physical, books.
The author says that she felt that if she wrote down her memories they would be saved, somehow. “The idea of being forgotten is terrifying. I fear not just that I, personally, will be forgotten, but that we are all doomed to be forgotten…” This is definitely an older, or at least more mature, experienced person’s perspective. I am certain I would not have connected with this idea and probably would have thought it morbid, when I was 22 or even 35.
As the mother of 4 grown children and 2 step-children, as well as the proud grandmother of the most impressive, beautiful, funny granddaughter (that’s definitely a new perspective on life), that fear that Susan Orleans mentions is very real, almost tangible.
It starts with this fear of not being recognized – by my nieces and nephews that I don’t see very often, or my sweet, precious granddaughter. I feel very urgent about weird things: “What if she never reads this specific Mother Goose Rhyme?” or “I must sing ___ song to her on my next visit.” Her parents read with her and sing to her – does it really matter what those books or songs are? Well … yes, because they are connected to me, to my mother, to my upbringing, my brother and sister, to my parenthood memories of raising my children.
So I have started feeling the urge to write over the past 5-6 years. The living room, my bedroom, my office room (not-so-endearingly called the junk room), my school bags are all littered with multiple journals filled with random thoughts, ideas for fiction and non-fiction, teaching plans and ideas for writing (there is another area of fear as I reach retirement age – “everyone should know ___ or how will they survive without me?”), and the typical Dear Diary entries about my feelings, my joys and frustrations, my surgeries, my journeys. .
If someone could make heads or tails (tales?) of anything I have in there, it could turn into a mini-library of its own! Therefore, I have these dreams to do that myself – write! Be a writer! It sounds so romantic to take each of those ideas, one day at a time, and develop it into a lovely story, book of vignettes, blog post, children’s book or series, or best-selling novel.
Ms. Orleans says, “Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.” Maybe that’s what Salvador Dalí was telling us in his painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” with the melting clocks? I need to defy time, be more defiant, and write more intentionally.
“In Senegal, the polite expression for saying someone died is to say his/her library has burned … But if you can take something from that internal collection and share it – with one person or with the larger world, on the page or in a story recited, it takes on a life of its own.”
Wow. I can’t stop thinking about that saying.
My sister Kim put it like this: “I think it means that what is important to us, our experiences and times, and all we know, dies with us. And even though we get interested in personal history(ies), when we get older it is because we don’t want people still here to forget our library. … What we won’t forget, and grieve the loss of, is our time and those deeply important experiences with our closest family. Like the snow stories. [family sledding stories] Those hit a nerve with me … they just brought to the surface life as it should be, almost like the Wimpy Kid stories.”
“Our trip in ‘79,” is a phrase that has begun many a tale told to my children – so often it inspires an eye roll followed by, “Yes, we know, mom. You’ve told us that before.” Kim, Bobby (brother), and I merely have to say, “Look at those sheer crags!” and a knowing, loving smile will appear on our faces, and if we’re in the same room, peels of laughter will break out and all three of us know that all’s right with the world again.
I’ve become my mother, for better or worse, and the similarity comes with that instinctive urge to share everything I know, my memories, with those I love because the fear is real.
“The idea of being forgotten is terrifying.”
**All quotes, other than the one at the end by my sister, are from my mother’s notes on the book, The Library Book, by Susan Orleans.