Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Revisitation

I am in the peculiar position of finally rereading--not by choice, but as an editorial assignment-- a book I last read just after I wrote it over fifteen years ago, and the experience is deeply unsettling. I wish I could say this is because of the evidence of how entire large swaths of my own life have vanished from memory, though there is that bit of uncomfortableness. No matter; here they are again. The moments come right back in all their fullness: I am on the Parkway again for the first time. Now I feel that warm grass on the back of my head, while above is the impossible and great blue, with the kind of sweep and saturated color they only make in the South. Here too is a lonesome night in Germany (see? you got through that all right!), cut adrift from all that I knew. Oh, and I had forgotten ever riding through that white sleet, so surprising; and getting lost in a foreign country; and worrying about where to park, when I knew I could not afford anything to happen to a bike I simply had to sell when it was time to leave.

I am startled to meet myself again in these pages, but it is not due to forgetting so much that I had done in so many places, in so many frames of mind. The alarm comes from suddenly seeing a person I wish that I could forget: the person who wrote them. I long for the eraser that could blank out whole paragraphs, this comment or that, this smugness or that secret better left unsaid. I was like a bulldozer of experience, too sure, and wrong about so much. I misread my own life, and though I see that with a painful clarity now, there is also the awful sense that the off-kilter assessments came from some obdurate part deep inside, running my full length, that I cannot and will never change, no matter how many hours I spend sobbing (or nodding) in therapists' offices.

I keep coming full circle, again and again, to the past that is me, to the me that is past.

So many say change is simple: Just do it. Yes, just decide to change, and presto. New person. One who does not find a part of herself sheared away and watching in sadness and dismay as she does--again--what she had vowed never to repeat. It is at these times that I feel I am but a subterranean riverbed through which run the old incessant waters of my family past, back, back down the lineage, all the way to those sepia people in the old photograph on my wall, standing silently, waiting for the shutter to close, in the side yard of a farmhouse somewhere in Ohio. People I never knew, but whose stern words and angry actions and private sadnesses were passed down, hand after hand, and now lie inside me, waiting for the match to touch the fuse.

Although it seems contradictory, I am a biological determinist when it comes to the human race; but I believe absolutely in nurture over nature when it comes to the individual. A behaviorist when it comes to the formation of the personality; and a Freudian when it comes to how it all comes down. How it is remembered, and repeated.

Maybe what ones writes should never be reread. Or maybe just not when one is in a mood. These pages to me now have the feel of the communion wafer, dry and tasteless, but actually a metaphorical food, full of body and blood.


Holly said...

Unless sociopaths, I think we are our own worst critics. In my limited wisdom, I tend to think that celebrating past victories is more productive than focusing on those passages we wish to erase. But there's always "a mood" like you say, and sometimes unavoidable. Hope it passes.

Reading your posts, found so randomly in this blogland, never fails to inspire me in some way, by the way.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

How I've wished at times that I had *something* of the sociopath in me! A little grandiosity, blame of others, suspiciousness, rage turned outward--that is the way to make money, at least.

No. You are of course right, Holly. One should not write blogs when "in a mood." It is passing, even now. I think on other subjects. There are so many, each a bit of hopeful future.

Kent said...

Hi Melissa,

I'm not nearly as insightful as your other readers, but...this reminds me of when my big sister Kathy dug out her diary from her teen years and read it to us. Page after page was filled with her declarations of love and adoration for Paul McCartney.

It was fun (and funny) today. But I could see that it was all very raw and real 40+ years ago. That's where she was back then and even though she's in a different place today (though Paul still looks pretty good at nearly 70), she took joy in revisiting the young girl for a few minutes.

That was her story. I'm glad she wrote it.


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Kent: "insightful"? Score: 10.

Your story of the story is a reminder of the paradox that is youthful writing: painful to recall, a treasure to find.

I too was a McCartneyite. When I was 6.

Revisionist historian that I am, I now think: WTF? Lennon was where it was at!

th_01 said...


Take it easy on my old friend Melissa. All those written letters and words have made the person she is today.

It is wonderful to look back and see the path you have traveled to be where you are today. If you hadn't chosen any path and no experiences that would be sad.


Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

The path behind was rich . . . the path ahead, unknown, and therefore richer.