But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day.

~ Benjamin Disraeli



I awoke this morning tight in the grip of a memory.

I am in a swing.  The wooden one-seater kind, suspended by creaking chains from a shiny, metal, tubular frame.  It is early in the day and I am on a school playground.  Only it seems smaller than most playgrounds I remember from my childhood.  This one is long and slender in design, with porous fencing all about and a sidewalk down the left-hand side with weeds breaking through the cracks between the slabs.  I am alone on the swings; the only other one hangs silently to my right.  No one is on the slide, a bit further to my right.  The sky is blue and blindingly bright and the moon is still visible, nearly full.

I remember the moon because I’m certain that this moment is the first time in my life I noticed that the moon can still be up during the daytime.  Which makes no sense when you’re a kid.  Also?  I see this memory from another – impossible – perspective, perched atop the roof, just above the door leading out from the school to the playground.  Only from this perspective, I can’t see me on the swing.  Or maybe I just didn’t bother to look.

In response to its prodding, I’ve brought this memory front and center in my mind many times throughout my life, and I really don’t understand why.  It’s just there, sometimes when I wake up, other times during the most inane of times, the silliest of circumstances.  I had it in mind when I wrote part of a story a couple years ago, about a playground full of children sucked up by the straw of God.  Most times, it just shows up, unannounced, and I take no significant notice.

Until this morning.  My eyelids were no longer heavy, sleep suddenly the strangest of notions.  And still, there was no big epiphany.  No revelation.  No aha moment.  Just the memory.  And I’m certain it happened to me.  One can’t make up something so garden-variety and cling to it as tightly as I have over all these years.

So I embraced it.  Tried to flesh out the details.  How old am I?  Where is this school?  Am I wearing anything memorable?  Is there a teacher nearby?  What is outside the fence?

What’s frustrating is that I can’t really talk to anyone else about this memory.  I doubt my parents would recall one little playground from those nomadic years.  I imagine they had barely the time to breathe.  And the details aren’t such that they are common to one particular object, like the other day at work when I described for my coworkers a particular car with a sloping rear window that terminated in a point and we searched Google for an hour and finally found it . . .


Not like that at all.  This playground is mine and very specific to me and my perspective.  Even those that would have seen it would have seen it differently than I did, with all the attached emotions and particulars and that moon, dim but present enough to draw my wandering eye and capture my attention for these so many years.

A memory with no context.

And I realize that there are many other memories about my life that are like floaties dropped over the side of the pontoon that are gently yet persistently gliding away, out of reach.  Only not like floaties at all.  These memories are irreplaceable and forever trapped as just some vague and disconnected set of scenes that play over and over upon the big screen of my mind, with no narrator to help me flesh out the meaning.

And now this post is getting to be too much for me on this dreary, stale coffee Monday morning.  I’m thinking of Aristotle and how there are differences between specifics and particulars and also of the nature of memory and how unreliable a monster ours can be and finally of how most of what we consider to be “meaning” is actually some overwrought thing we choose to derive from, or impose upon, our experiences and that meaning is really way too subjective a thing to seriously contemplate.

But I can make a timeline.  That hit me this morning.  So I’m going to visit some office supply store this morning and pick up some yellow legal pads.  And I’m going to give each of my 43 years a couple pages, and I’m going to start jotting down the details of my life.  Where did I live?  Apartment or house?  Pets.  Cars.  Jobs.  The big things at first.  And then, as time goes by, the little things.  The tail on the donkey, only without the blindfold and all that nauseous spinning.  I will try to fit it all into some knowable and confirmable moment in time.

And Thanksgiving is coming up. We always struggle finding things to talk about during dinner, so my new project should provide plenty of entertaining fodder.  I mean, it is all about me after all.  And that damn moon . . .

[Flickr photo is by Lauri Väin and is protected]


6 thoughts on “Timeline

  1. Your timeline had better end up online (minus any particularly personal details). Yopu could turn it into an interactive ‘Life of Brian’ section for your website. The thousands of Brian fans out there could flick through and find out all about you.

    Of course, they’d then track you down using the internet and start camping outside your house in droves. But this problem can be sorted with enough hungry wolverines…. 🙂

    Seriously, it’s a good idea. I may well steal it.

  2. this is a great idea! i have some powerfully strong memories that i can’t find context for… and having talked to family (bonus to being the youngest) i have sorta kinda pinned some of those things down to when i was 2-3 years old. so my memories are EMOTIONS not WORDS. very strange, but they are real memories…

    please let us all know how this works out…

  3. Well, I haven’t been here in a while. It’s just as I remember.

    I don’t fret too much about the vagueness of my memories. I can always make shit up. However I do like your idea of a retrospective journal. Make use of the communal memory bank to trigger some old connections in the brain. Fodder for more stories.

    I’m going for coffee with a friend I haven’t seen in 20 years. From my OLD life in art school when I was a different ME. I’m curious to see myself reflected in her eyes and take a measure of my now. I feel like I’m a totally different person, but I wonder if I really am.

    1. I recently got together with an old friend from high school I hooked up with on Facebook. Her and her sister were on their way through back to Chicago from Columbus, OH, so we decided to meet up at the mall. We hadn’t seen each other since June of 1987. Sitting there, talking to her, browsing through our senior yearbook, brought back so many memories. Nearly a deluge. More than I could ever possible entertain, much less write about. Memories are so powerful . . .

      Hope your meeting is as engaging . . .

  4. Wow–it’s been way too long since I was here. I think the only thing a timeline would do to me is remind me of all that I’ve forgotten. My husband can tell you every street address, telephone number and zip code he’s ever had. I couldn’t come close to it. I try to remember the big things, though. Like the taste of the eggs baked in red wine at a country inn in France. Or how much my sister and mother and I laughed during a day-long ride in the car coming home from a cousin’s wedding. I look forward to what your come up with next.

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