This summer Phoenix Art Museum proudly presents Friends of Contemporary Art Film Series: Who Are We? The Art of Memory—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Jim Carrey heads the cast of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry from Academy Award nominee Charlie Kaufman’s original screenplay. The two-time Golden Globe Award winner is joined in the movie by three-time Academy Award nominee Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood.
Joel (Jim Carrey) is stunned to discover that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had her memories of their tumultuous relationship erased. Out of desperation, he contacts the inventor of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), to have Clementine removed from his own memory. But as Joel’s memories progressively disappear, he begins to rediscover his love for Clementine. From deep within the recesses of his brain, Joel attempts to escape the procedure. As Dr. Mierzwiak and his crew (Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood) chase him through the maze of his memories, it’s clear that Joel just can’t get Clementine out of his head.
Free for Circles and FOCA Members, $5 for Members, and $10 for the general public.
Date: Wednesday, July 24
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
I don’t remember exactly what triggered writing “The Year in Review.” At the time we were staying in Borrego Springs, a small town in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, and in the afternoon I liked to climb to the top of the garage of the house we were renting and sit on the viewing deck the owner had built for stargazing. Borrego Springs is the only International Dark Sky Community in California, and I’ve never experienced such a sky of stars than I did in Borrego. The city asks that homeowners turn off their outdoor lights at night to enhance the depth of the dark. But I also loved to climb up on the roof and watch the sun set. From the top I could see the desert plains spread out behind me and the mountains rise; I could see the sun dip below the palm trees. It was a fabulous view and had the advantage of allowing me to write. That day I carried my notebook and pen and wrote what came to be “The Year in Review” in one fell swoop as if I was in a class and had been handed a prompt. But, of course, this was not an assignment, just what welled up inside me and asked to be written. Perhaps it was something about the sweep of the horizon from the rooftop that asked me to look at the year I had just completed.
It’s a catalogue, a close relative to the list, both of which I love because they attempt to catch the moments of our lives before they’re forgotten, erased, or written over by new moments. Time is what they are about—the relentless forward motion of time, pulsing ahead and carrying us with it helplessly. These reviews are little life rafts we hold onto to keep us from falling out into the current. They are my attempts to be steady and stay upright, to know where I am and who I am at a specific moment in time. It’s a kind of reckoning, an attempt to get at something I’ll call the personal truth of my life.
Essay Daily published an experiment called What Happened on June 21st last year. They invited anyone interested to write about what happened that day. They received about 250 reports. I was one of the 250 respondents. Now they’ve culled 25 accounts and published them as a slim book and mine is one of them. I mention this experiment because it is related to my experiment of writing a year in review essay—the tasks are similar. One could easily be overwhelmed by the enormity of all that happened in a given day, a given year. What did I experience in one unit of time? So much of our lives is deemed mundane, routine. We walk our dogs everyday—but what makes any particular walk worth noticing? And then, there are those so-called profound experiences when something shakes us awake. Sometimes the mundane becomes profound and sometimes the profound peters out in the end. It’s a complicated dance trying to capture the rhythm of a life, whether it be a day or a year. What details are most telling and how do these details jostle together to create a life while always moving forward? I have found that some of my most telling moments happen while I’m going about my life and they would pass away unremembered if I did not try to write them. That’s one thing we writers do: we write against the erasure of time.
Today, we are pleased to feature Ana Brotas as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes this opportunity to discuss her experience with photography and reveal her creative process. She describes her long journey with photography and how she has used the “process of drawing with light” as a form of expression.
Ana reflects on her early relationship with photography, noting that “there was an amazement embedded in this process.” However, as her time working with the artistic medium went on and became digitized she felt that it lost much of its meaning and no longer felt like the same “conscious decision to capture a moment.” This changed when she went through the many photos she had taken over the years and discovered things she had forgot, saying that it was as if she was “browsing through someone else’s memory” to go through her old photos. So, she found new inspiration in the “nostalgia transformed into an archive” which speaks honestly to the unexpected and complex creative process which can take shape in so many different ways.
This much is true: I haven’t been writing much lately. At least not creatively. Or with any kind of fervor or grace. I have been writing, though. I’ve been writing copy. Like that scruffy guy in Mad Men. The one who eventually cut off his nipple. Ginsburg. I’ve been writing ads and newsletters and product descriptions and stuff like that. Content for websites. It pays the bills and then some. It affords a life of minor plenty. But it does not inspire. It’s commerce, it’s not art. Though, sometimes, and only sometimes, I like to joke that it’s the other way around, and that it is in fact art, not commerce, as periodically an occasion presents me with the opportunity to splash a bit of that woebegotten grace around the page/screen. You’ve seen the work I did for that luxury hotel? In Chicago? So I’ve been writing but I haven’t been writing. I’ve been losing writing. Displacing water. Something-something.
In lieu of writing, I’ve been thinking of writing. I’ve been reminiscing. Pulling notes of old harmony from the sticky depths of my glial stew. It has given me that subtle kind of joy that’s so often associated with nostalgia for things gone by: years, cardigans, cross country trips with my brother.
To that end, I have been thinking of firsts. Not those kinds of firsts. These kinds of firsts. First story written; first story/essay published; first book (what book?); and so on. You’ve been there right? Not writing like you feel you ought to be. That self-generated guilt. Rafts of the stuff. Right. So here we go.
First Story: I started writing my first story outside of Orland, California. I was living at the Farm Sanctuary. I was living in a communal home and surrounded by hills and the smell of cows and ducks and pigs and the like. There were three donkeys and no horses. There was a herd of skittish sheep that ran through the hills like dirty laundry possessed of a poltergeist.
I was younger, then. Twenty-two, I think. I was a vegan, then. And strong. And kind of angry. But mainly happy. And careless.
There wasn’t much to do out there. The internet connection was spotty.
Out there, you could spend time with the staff who lived in the communal house and those who didn’t. You could walk the hills. You could run them. You could go into the forests if you could catch a ride or to the Black Butte Lake Reservoir on an old mountain bike. You could suck down beers and smoke a single cigarette while watching the sunset with a woman named Anne. Those are things I did.
Too, there was downtime and alone time. So I read and napped with a cat whose fur was a luminescent shade of gray that trended blue when hit with the sun. I read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. Haruki Murakami. Toni Morrison. Yukio Mishima. Pearl Buck. Borges. Peter Singer. Whatever was leftover from staff that had come to live in the communal house before eventually leaving. I read magazines. Sometimes the cat would pee on my shirts. The staff who’d been there for awhile said it was because it liked me and didn’t want me to leave, though I, too, eventually would.
It was after I closed the back flap of One-Hundred Years of Solitude that it struck me: I should write a story/I will a story/Let’s write a story! And like in fairy tales of and the lore of writers new and old, the story came to me prepackaged and ready to use.
All I had to do was write it.
Which I did.
In between my chores and after dinner in the communal house. While I emptied feed troughs and mucked barns. It was about an old guy who was friends with a ficus tree. As it goes, the story was called: “Ficus Tree.” It was probably clichéd as all get. But I had to write it. Like a new tooth coming in and shoving aside the old. A tendril pressing through the hull of its seed.
There was a scene I remember liking, the man leaning against a pane of frosted glass in winter and the skin of ice evaporating around his profile as he sat and drank.
When I was through, I printed it out and shared it around with my housemates. It was momentous (for me, at least), as it laid bare the roadmap my life was looking for.
That story, though, is long gone. I’d saved it on a hard floppy but who knows where that ended up. Maybe my mom has a copy somewhere. Probably it is full of typos and tense errors and springs too tightly wound. I’d like to see it again, if possible. I’ll ask her if she held on to it. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.
First Published Story: I was spinning my wheels and waiting to get into graduate school when my first story was submitted and accepted for publication.
I was living with my mom and stepdad in Carbondale, Illinois. It was a good time. I hadn’t a job yet had some money. I drank whiskey with my town friends. I ran fast around the lake situated on the campus of the local university.
The story? Well, it was accepted by the Paris Review!! It was such a shock. Like realizing, suddenly, I could levitate at will. I’m kidding. It was accepted by The Thieves Jargon, an online-only publication. You remember it? I feel like people liked appearing in that one. Like getting something accepted and published by elimae. Like elimae, The Thieves Jargon has gone the way of the ghost. Even its archives are extinct. Scraped from the face of the earth. Like river silt washed into and swallowed by the ocean.
The story was heavily (and I mean heavily) influenced by Rick Bass’s “Mississippi.” My story was called “Agnes is Gorgeous.” It was about a guy and a woman named Agnes. I don’t think the guy had a name. I think it was in written in the third person. Or maybe it was the first?
(I’d started working on it New Orleans, on the floor of my friend’s apartment, writing under the swirl of the ceiling fan and caressing the keys of my gigantic Dell Inspiron laptop.)
In the story, the couple were together, though I don’t remember what they did together or what drove the story. My sense memory tells me that they were nice enough to each other, that they were perhaps too dependent on each other, that they had a box fan in the window. Probably they drank iced tea and were familiar with each other more often than not.
Anything else, I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I received the acceptance email from the editors at Thieves, I damn well did levitate up the stairs from my mother’s basement and into the kitchen to tell her and my stepdad that I was to be a published author. It was the most incredible feeling I’d felt in a long while, as I’d already been loved by someone not my parents. It was validation that my work had some merit, however fleeting or thin. While Thieves was still up and running, I’d come to publish another tiny story or two in the magazine. Stories about deli workers wrapping steaks in thick white paper. Laborers. The times I knew when I was between schools and standing on ladders and swinging sledge hammers and breathing in crystalline silica dust and coughing it up at night after hours and hours of drinking.
First Published Essay: The one season of little league I participated in, I tried my best to emulate Will “The Thrill” Clark, first baseman (at least when I was a player) for the San Francisco Giants.
He wore number twenty-two.
His first homerun occurred during his first professional at bat, off of Nolan Ryan.
I admired him because, when in the box, he held his bat like a hobo held a bindle stick, slung carelessly behind the back, its end tipping toward the ground in a careless little wag and dance.
I was living in Wisconsin when The Thrill would come to feature in my first foray into essay.
I was working for the state, at the time.
I was most definitely hating life, at the time, and my own in particular.
I had a cubicle, then, and was checking my Twitter account and in the doing, saw that a literary magazine I followed had a call for writing having to do with baseball. That magazine was Hobart Pulp. I hadn’t any thoughts of sharing pieces of myself through writing or writing of baseball until the moment I saw that tweet. But when I did, I said to myself: Let’s write about little league and Will Clark and being a kid with a younger brother being raised, at that time, primarily by our mom, who was doing her best but who did not, when taking me to the Hibbett Sports Store at the Carbondale mall to buy an aluminum baseball bat and white leather (fresh!) batting gloves, did not buy me a protective cup (I already had a ball glove). And I, being in fifth grade, was too terrified and shy to ask for one, as doing so would implicitly/explicitly imply and foretell that I was growing up, so off I went into the fields and dugouts of the sporting complex with nothing but my reflexes and a polycotton fabric blend to protect me from the potential energy stored within a baseball.
As mentioned, I had a stupid job (it really was) in a stupid department in a stupid state and though I didn’t like to, I did my work and still had plenty plenty of time to sit there in my desk chair, idling with my two screens open, my official work stuff always up, my writing stuff off to the side, always ready, at first, to minimize the page, and always ready, later, to just keep it up.
So when the prompt hovered in front of me in my cubicle area, I pulled up a fresh Word Doc and started typing away about Will Clark and being from a broken home (ha), the only one among my friends with divorced friends.
I wrote about striking out all the time and Will Clark’s beautiful swing, as gorgeous a thing as Ken Griffey Jr’s, and how it was almost more gorgeous than KG’s because Will Clark looked more like a guy who’d just clambered down from a deer stand than an athlete who could loft balls out of the park as easy pressing a glass to the little piece that made ice fall from an automatic ice dispenser.
I wrote it sent it out and it was accepted and published, I think, in 2015, April, the usual month Hobart holds kicks off its baseball theme.
I guess it was a coming of age piece, in a way.
It was so much fun to write while sitting in that drab cubicle, in the sense that it provided a kind of sanctuary from the doldrums I was so often kicking around in those days.
It was a pleasure to think of Will Clark and how I saw his glove and cleats in Cooperstown, a place he’ll probably only ever visit as a guest. In the years since, I’ve had the pleasure of having a poem and short story accepted by Hobart and asides from my own personal sense of accomplishment, they’re just a damn fine journal whose staff work tirelessly to highlight excellent writers across the board.
We’re at the end now. This mosey down memory lane is the most writing I’ve done in awhile. It was fun. It felt good. It said to me, as I was writing, stop taking on so many freelance projects, guy. Your job is enough. Writing is more important than a few extra bucks. And it is. So I should. And maybe I will. If I know what’s good for me.
Editor’s note: This piece contains discussion of sexual assault and rape.
I’m interested in lies. I’m interested in truth. And in memory. How accurate are my memories? Do I trust that what I remember is true?
A few days ago I had coffee with a friend I see only every couple of years. Rebooting our conversation from when we last met, he wanted to know if he correctly remembered the story of the end of my marriage. “You were on a weekend get-away with your husband in San Diego,” he said. “He told you as you were unpacking your suitcases that the marriage was over, he was in love with someone from the office, she was pregnant, they were getting married, and he wanted to keep the house so he could raise his new family there.” Except for the weekend in San Diego and the pregnancy my friend’s memory had served him well.
It’s easy to explain the insertion of these two erroneous details. I had probably told my friend that only a month before our end-of-marriage conversation, my husband and I, and our children, and grandchildren had gone to San Diego for a family vacation. As for the pregnancy, in the fractured aftermath of learning that the life I knew was over, I concocted a scenario for my own survival. My husband didn’t want to end our marriage, but he was in a tough spot. Yes, he’d slept with her. Once. Maybe twice. She was on the pill, she’d told him, but that was a lie. Now she was pregnant. Or said she was. She wanted the baby, but her parents would be devastated that she was unmarried. They’d been saving and planning for her wedding since the day she was born. After much angst, my husband promised her that he’d leave me. They announced their engagement to her parents, and then she had a “miscarriage.” My husband had been duped, but he didn’t know it.
This tale helped me get out of bed in the morning. It was the story I told myself in the dark, alone. But as far as I recall, I hadn’t shared it with anyone. Then again, where did my friend come up with the idea of the pregnancy? Had I recounted my byzantine fake pregnancy, fake miscarriage theory to him? Was I so unhinged that I uttered it aloud? Maybe. And maybe, in the course of my ramblings, my friend was paying more attention to how I was negotiating the wreckage of my life than to the parsing of theory and fact. Regardless, the heart of the story as my friend remembered it was true.
Forty-two years ago I was raped by a business associate. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t remember if it happened in Indianapolis or South Bend. A couple of years earlier an acquaintance attacked me and nearly strangled me. I don’t remember his last name either. In fact, I don’t even remember his first name. What I remember is how swiftly he pinned me to the front seat of my car. What I remember is the pressure of his thumbs against my throat.
I write both nonfiction and fiction, and sometimes when there are details I don’t recall while writing an essay or memoir, I ask myself if it might be better to use my idea as a jumping off point for a short story. How can I write the piece as nonfiction when there are so many things I don’t remember? How do I flesh out the missing pieces of a true story? Is it even necessary to do that?
Since watching the Senate testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, I feel stronger than ever that the bones of a personal essay can stand on their own, sans padding. Those exposed bones, like a skeleton hanging from a porch on Halloween night, are more dramatic without additional detail. The bareness delivers commonality. My skeleton, in so many ways, looks just like yours.
There’s power in forgetting. Sometimes forgetting saves us. What we don’t remember is what we want to forget. The details that stay with us, in combination with the details that lay submerged beyond the access of memory, combine to render a story woven with complexity. There’s no need to embellish or invent. There’s a whole story lodged in our bones. Negative space is part of the picture. The erasure wrought by trauma tells its own part of the story. Just as sensory detail can engage the reader, the writer can draw the reader into the emptiness. I cannot recall a single feature of my attacker’s face. I can’t see his eyes, or whether or not he had a mustache, or freckles, or any type of a scar. He was quite pale, I think, or maybe just seemed so there on the dark street where he’d offered to walk me to my car.
The emptiness unites writer and reader. We struggle together to make out that pale face in the dark car. You are with me, clawing back your own memories just as I am with Dr. Basey Ford, running down the stairs and out the door of a house on a street with no name—a street that led us back home without knowing how we got there. Our memories can fail us. That failure is part of the story.
Today we are pleased to feature author William Auten as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, William discusses the role of memory and detail in his short story, “Something in the Way.”
William states that he wrote “Something in the Way” as “a way to connect unsettling personal and cultural events.” The story, he says, “combines fact and fiction,” and “blurs imagined scenarios with real-life experiences.” He declares that these memories can be “broad and abstract enough to point to their universal application,” while, in the confines of the story, be susceptible to “amplifying, editing, or renovating.”
William emphasizes that people share “similar traits, feelings, and reactions,” and that “mundane details” in a story can heighten the reader’s empathetic response. However, he says, these “mundane details have to play off of what the piece aims for; its overall effect.” He concludes by stating that “‘Something in the Way’ is an act of fiction, even the parts that I didn’t have to make up.”
Today we are pleased to feature author Timothy Reilly as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, Timothy discusses the inspiration behind his short story, “The Task at Hand,” calling it a “nod to the old Grail romances.”
Timothy states that “‘The Task at Hand’ is not a ‘Baby Boomer’ story,” even though it concerns a protagonist from that generation. Instead, he says, it is “an internal quest… framed within a common 21st-century excursion.” During that quest the protagonist “deals with the challenges of age and memory,” as well as “the fickleness of pop culture.”
Timothy, hearkening back to his lifelong interest in Grail legends, declares that “myths are about truth, not facts.” He ends by referencing a quote from C.S Lewis, saying that when he realized this fact and “was old enough to read fairy tales again,” he began to write short stories of his own.
You can read Timothy’s story, “The Task at Hand,” in Issue 16 of Superstition Review.
Today we are pleased to feature author John Clayton as our Authors Talk series contributor. In the podcast, John discusses the subjectivity of memory and the dynamic nature of family as seen in his short story, “Memory Loss.” “Memory Loss” describes the journey of a son to understand the truth of his own experience in the midst of family members attempting to “rewrite the narrative” of their own history. Thus the question is, as John states: “Who is truly distorting the past? Whose memory has gotten ‘lost?'”
John notes that we “don’t remember our lives by means of a clear, objective lens,” and that everything in our lives is seen through the prism of our own subjectivity. He states that “observation is filtered by memory, and memory is always distorted.” However, he concludes by saying that, when authors make the choice to share these distorted and sometimes-painful memories, the memories are “given shape, sweetened, and made tender. The author stands apart from them, and the pain is temporarily assuaged.”
You can read John’s story, “Memory Loss,” in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.
Today we are pleased to feature author JR Tappenden as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her Authors Talk, JR discusses the inspiration behind two of her poems, “Regarding Your Wish For Do-Overs,” and “Regarding the Adirondack Trip.” JR says that these pieces are part of a series of poems about grieving, written after the death of her father in April of 2015.
While JR states that she “never set out to do such a cliched thing as being a poet who writes about death,” she notes that her father’s passing left her with many conflicted emotions that she needed to process. She states that the poems began as notes to her sister, with the exception of “Regarding Your Wish For Do-Overs,” which she addresses to herself. By doing so, JR states her desire to “talk herself through” any old exasperation that she had with her father, as well as to reflect her gratitude for not being able to revisit the past, knowing what it would come to mean. Doing so, she says, “would overload me.”
JR Tappenden’s poem, “Regarding Your Wish for Do-Overs,” appears in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.
Rosemarie Dombrowski will be hosting a two-part writing workshop on flash memoir, titled “The Art of Memory in 750 Words or Less.” The workshop will take place at Changing Hands in Tempe from 6pm to 8pm on September 11 and September 25. Admission is $35 for both sessions.
During the first class, attendees will read and discuss examples of flash fiction and participate in a writing exercise. They will then receive a take-home writing prompt. In the second class, attendees will workshop their new, original piece of flash memoir and receive individualized feedback.
Rosemarie Dombrowski is a writer with a long list of accomplishments. She is the co-founder of the Phoenix Poetry Series, a poetry editor for Four ChambersPress, the founder of Rinky Dink Press, a three-time Pushcart nominee, and the inaugural Phoenix Poet Laureate. She is also a Senior Lecturer at Arizona State University’s Downtown campus. You can read more about her accomplishments on her website.
For more information about the workshop and to register, click here.