The Slipperiness of Memory, or What I Read in 2017

Do you ever come across an old list and have almost no memory of the events connected to it? Maybe you’re skimming through a notebook, and you find the jotted-down menu you were planning for Thanksgiving dinner, 2006. Or you find an old, much-scribbled-on Christmas list, and ask yourself, “Did I really get my husband a socket set that year?” The older I get, the more events seem to slip into one side of my brain and slide right out the other, leaving no memory imprint at all. Details I think I’ll never forget become—sooner than I anticipate—more blurry impression than sharp image. Our lives are made up of the small things, and I can hardly remember any of them.


Tim’s grandmother was a dedicated journal-writer. Every evening, for the first two decades I knew her, she wrote a page about the day she had just passed.  This used to fascinate me. Here, I thought, was a life well-chronicled! Here was surely a treasure trove of detail; a veritable time machine on paper! When I expressed my interest in the journals, Grammie gave them to me: stacks and stacks and bags and boxes of them.

I sat down to read. And I read with growing astonishment at the things that weren't written. The pages covered, in minute detail, what she had eaten for supper each day, how many miles they had driven, whom they had stopped to see along the way, and what the weather had been, but not a single hint about her personality. Always, the temperature written on the upper right-hand corner of the page.  Nothing else. No colorful descriptions; no sentiment or opinion ever expressed; not a single mention of world events or even family events, like great-grandchildren being born. I know, because I looked up the dates of my own children’s births and…nothing. Just a report that the day had been sunny, and the fact that they’d eaten lamb chops with Nellie, and what the meal had cost. This is not the kind of remembering I want to do.

A year ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution: I can’t write down everything, but I resolved to write down the title of every book I read in 2017. Books are mile-markers for me. What I read tells me much about where I am in life. So I did it. I didn’t count books I’ve only partially read: I always have a circulating pile of those. And I didn’t count individual poems or short stories, unless I’d read an entire collection. Keeping a list taught me a few things about my reading habits:

1. I re-read old favorites too often, because it’s easier than doing the work of reading something for the first time.

2. I am a slow reader.

3. I wish I read more current fiction than I do. But Tim just got me an Audible account for my birthday, so maybe that’s a good resolution for 2018.

Now, without further ado, here is what I read in 2017:

Read more: The Slipperiness of Memory, or What I Read in 2017

Feet, Caviar, and Opinions

For years now, the tendons of my foot have been shortening, pulling my bones out of shape, and making my foot look like this:

Broken Hand

Well, nearly anyway. If my foot were a hand, that's what it would have looked like. I put up with it for about 5 years, adjusting my gait; succumbing to orthotics, and putting off the one thing that would fix the problem: surgery. Last summer, I bought ugly shoes, because they don’t make cute shoes to fit a foot like that. I hurt all the time. So finally, I gave in: this week, I had surgery. Here’s what my foot looks like now:

Cropped Foot

Like a large-ish Q-tip wearing a nightcap, askew on the end of my leg. Somewhere inside there though, healing is going on. I can tell, because it tingles and itches, and hurts. Something’s happening under all that gauze.

Read more: Feet, Caviar, and Opinions

Flower Boxes, or More Than Just Surviving

 A couple of years ago, halfway into writing the third novel of my contract, the bottom fell out of my family’s life. It wasn’t a single incident; for a while there, we were sustaining damage on a lot of different fronts at once. It was much like being knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the ribs for about 2 years. Tim and I, serenely sailing the sea of life, suddenly found ourselves hurtled down a steep and turbulent waterslide of loss into a deep pool of grief. We landed; we touched bottom. And then, we trod water there for a long, long time. I somehow kept my head above the surface enough to finish writing that third novel, but that was about all I had in me. Almost a year and a half ago, They Danced On was published, but by then, I had no energy left to update my website with the news. I don’t think I even mentioned it on Facebook; definitely not on Twitter. (And I don’t know how to use Instagram.) By that time, I was beyond thinking about publicity: I was too busy trying to get out of bed in the mornings.Every Morning

The irony is that They Danced On is a story about grief. When I started writing it, I thought I knew a thing or two on the subject. After all, I had been through hard things. Who hasn’t? I’d lost friends and support systems and dreams just like the next person. What I didn’t realize then was how far down the floor of the pool can be. I still don’t, thank goodness. There are plenty of horrors I haven’t had to face. I’ve never had a child die; I hope I’ll never touch that particular bottom. But I have lost children in other, gutting ways.

Read more: Flower Boxes, or More Than Just Surviving