Tag Archives: memory

It’s OK to be Different

bowie

Bowie as Ziggy

I guarantee this is not the post you are expecting.

In fact, I suspect its probably going to be the most contraversial post I have ever written.  But I’m going to write it anyway.

David Bowie died today.

Amidst the media hysteria and blanket coverage, amidst the tidal wave of mourning on social media, I ask you to spare a thought for those of us who are different.  For those of us who, while recognising that he was a cultural game-changer whose contribution to altering the way society views androgyny and the transgender community was incalculable, just never really liked the music.

(Cue cat calls and howls of disgust.)

I was not one of those teenagers who lay on their bed in the dark, listening to his music and wanting to be him.  He did not appeal to the need to be different in me, mainly because I didn’t have one.  I was too repressed. I didn’t like his voice and I found the majority of his songs rather boring.  I still feel that way.

OK, I like ‘Let’s Dance’.  But Major Tom left me cold, and lets not even go into the whole gnome thing, however satirical.  When ‘Ashes to Ashes’ came out, I remember the misery and boredom of it being at the top of the charts for week after week after week.

On the other hand, I do have an important Bowie memory, one that in many ways affected my life.  It happened in 1986.

Before I go on, I want to explain a little bit about my life before that time.  It was only four years after the Falklands War.  I lived in a Naval town, and most people I knew at school had fathers in the Services.  All my parents friends were in Naval jobs of some sort.  I knew people whose fathers were killed in the sinkng of HMS Sheffield.  I knew boys, whom I had grown up with, boys from my street, who came back from that war irrevocably changed.  While other British kids were struggling with the issues of poverty and unemployment created by the Thatcher government, I was worried about war.  We lived  between two major installations which we had always known would be prime targets in the event of nuclear war.  That sharpens the senses of a sensitive child no end, let me tell you.

One day in 1986, I was in the art studio at my college.   I was working towards my art A level.  The radio was on.  We heard news of the US air attacks on Gaddafi’s Libya.  The air went still.  You could feel the fear.

The lad whose cassette radio it was switched the radio off.  He rummaged in his bag and pulled out a tape.  He put it on.  It was David Bowie’s greatest hits.  And yes, it even included the gnome song.  We played that tape all day, only breaking off to listen at the top of the hour to the news.  We worked quietly at our paintings, and we listened to Bowie over and over again.

That experience taught me two things.

One was how music can transcend fear, can bind a group of people together and rescue them from their worst worries about the future.  Because yes, we really were afraid that Armageddon was about to begin. (Remember, this was a time before America was habitually involved in wars in the Middle East.)

The other thing it taught me that Bowie, however trendy it was to like him, however much I was told I SHOULD like him, sounded a bit boring to me, and I didn’t much like his music.

This latter fact I have hidden, along with not liking Kate Bush, throughout my life, for fear of relentless torment by the trendy and the snobs.

But now as I reflect on his life, I suspect that Bowie would have championed my difference.  After all, he stood for those who stand up to society, for those who are unashamed of diverging from Society’s norms.  He was truly a great cultural icon.

I just didn’t really like his music, that’s all.

 

Advertisements

Journal Friday: Using Memories

Virginia Woolf as a young woman.  I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

Virginia Woolf as a young woman. I keep a copy of this portrait on my desk.

I’ve been reflecting on using memories in my journal lately. This is not something I tend to do readily. I don’t like remembering, mainly because I have a lot of painful memories that I don’t like to revisit. Some people had happy childhoods that they like to relive. I didn’t. I’m always put off when writers encourage their students to draw on their childhoods for material:

“Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is Okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just start getting it down.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p4.

That’s all very well, but what if you are not in a mental place where you can face your grim and horrible childhood? And yes, I know I am always ranting on about how creativity heals, but you need to be ready to make that leap, and I’m just not there yet.

What to do?

Well, I’ve been reading a brilliant biography of Virginia Woolf lately, (rereading actually) and its discussion of her reading methods prompted me to think about my own education. And remember.

Musing in my diary, I found memories I felt I could allow myself to revisit. I recalled how I set out to ‘spend three years reading’ – somewhat as Woolf intended to ‘read myself blue in the nose’ – when I embarked on my English and American Studies degree. I wanted the world of literature to open up to me. I wanted to bask in all its wondrous variety, from Spencer’s ‘Faerie Queen’, Alexander Pope’s satire, through the invention of the novel, to the Modernism of Woolf, Joyce and Eliot. I wanted to gulp down Byron and wallow in Shelly. I wanted to lose myself in Fitzgerald, Whitman, Hemingway, the Brontës and George Eliot. I wanted to read The Greats. In short, I wanted a ‘proper’ literary education.

What I got was an itinerary of a book per week for each course, three courses running over three eight week terms per year, for three years. And to about 70% of these books, a 50 minute seminar was allotted.

(Perhaps I was naive.  No, scratch that.  I was definitely naive!)

I remembered not the luxury of three years reading, when I looked back, nor even any real reflections on the books I actually read. It was on this course that I first read Woolf for example, her ground-breaking novel ‘The Waves’ in fact, but I don’t remember what I thought about it. I don’t remember if it moved me, or if I found it difficult. I remember no opinion of it from that time at all. I was too fixated on ploughing through every volume on the booklist, and how I could bluff my way through the seminar if I hadn’t managed to finish each.

I’m not a fast reader either. This scorching schedule of novel after novel, of play after poetry collection after essay collection, left me reeling. I could barely keep up, let alone reflect and absorb. Mainly my memories of this time comprise of the tyranny of the seminar programme, of grinding through every book, and hating the labour instead of loving the words and stories and imagery.

For me as a writer, this memory, or rather the understanding of an absence of memory, is an important one to explore. I was fortunate enough to have an education, but somehow, I kind of blinked and missed it. The lesson I drew as I wrote of my disappointment in my diary is that I will take the memory into the future with me, and use it to inform my future reading. I will never finish a book again without forming my own clear opinion of it – and writing it down. By finding my way back to a memory, I can change my reading practise in the future. And that change will inform my writing. Which is a good reason for reaching back to find this memory.

Using memories in your diary doesn’t have to be a process of self-flagellation. Or at least, not if you don’t want it to be.

You don’t have to write pages in your own blood. You can write down your happiest memories, or the most instructive ones, or you can choose not to use memories at all. Exploring the past can be a useful exercise. It can be a healing exercise, but tacking painful times should only be done when you are ready, and not before. Don’t force yourself.

Instead, write about memories as they occur to you, and explore why they have come up at that particular moment. Yes, record them as vividly as you can, if you can. Find instruction in them. And if the time is right, exorcise your ghosts. But not every entry has to be a process of emotional flaying.

Happy journaling,

EF