The only worthwhile legacy? Memories…….

by Author on August 6, 2010

If “The Knitter” is about one thing above everything else crammed in there, it’s about memories. What they are, how important they are, how they can play tricks on us, but most of all how in the end they are what define us all and how much our lives were really worth.

More important than our own stored memories of events are the ones we leave behind; how others remember us and how we have managed to touch others along the way and maybe make just a little difference. Now I’m sure some readers will be thinking of switching off at the moment, thinking here we go, another drippy new age post! Well read on, because that’s not where this is going.

By constructing The Knitter as a “memory tale”, one woven out of all kinds of random strands of personal memories, stories told, my father’s poems and some imagination thrown in to try to fill in the gaps, I think I have ended up with a much more interesting and worthwhile book. And in the process of writing it, I became completely convinced of something I hadn’t really thought about up to then – memories were never designed to capture the fine details of events, but to cling on to how things felt. There is a moment in Chapter 10 of the book that sums this up, when the author’s father, Johnnie, says to him:  “Don’t trust your memory John. It’s the last thing you should trust for the details of anything, but the only thing to trust for the feelings.”

Any attempt to distinguish what’s “true” from what’s almost true or way off the mark would be missing the point of the book, and explaining those differences is not something I ever plan to do.  Readers might be very surprised to learn which events happened exactly as written!  Some of the stories in there were entirely imagined; but every single word in there feels like the absolute truth. And that’s what is important.

Writing The Knitter led me back to appreciate again the great poems my father wrote – and at the same time made me realise what a perfect medium great poetry is to preserve memories. Poems, even more than novels and memoirs, seem to work in the same way memories do. They bring out the truth of the feelings, where the nature of novels maybe forces too much focus on the details. What better way than the poem The Stiff Hutch to get to the core what coal mining was really about around the time of nationalisation? What better way than The Travers to capture what a family was really all about? And how better to preserve a part of culture now gone than with The Chapper Up?

I’m going to leave the final words to a direct quote from The Knitter. The other thing that seemed to fall out naturally from constructing the book as a memory tale was that it never at any point evolved as a time ordered story. It came together in much the same way as memories conspire to work over time – as a patchwork of feelings, events and other happenings that take on their own sequence – or more to the point where the exact order of things becomes meaningless. The quote below comes right from the final page of The Knitter”:

“Thoughts flooded his mind simultaneously, jostling to find their own space in the queue. Not clear pictures and events, just a torrent of bits and pieces, some standing by themselves, others connected in all kinds of unpredictable ways which, if they could be pieced together, would all add up to a life. He didn’t want to start piecing them together though, and he definitely didn’t feel he had to, because that’s how he had always seen life anyway. Who wants a nice, safe, cosy, ordered, predictable sequence of things, all neatly under control, when you can have a jumbled, chaotic, messy pot of stew? The mess would do just fine, so long as the memories all add up to a life you can feel good about.”

So the next time you find yourself screwing your face up trying to remember some precise detail of what someone said or what happened a long time before – just relax and try to remember the feeling.

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August 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm

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