Louise Glück is my favorite living poet. Snippets of her poetry appear throughout this blog and on my tumblr. I love the music of her language, her mythic sensibility, the beauty and raw emotion contained in each collection of words.
I woke up thinking about this one, her poem “Twilight.” It seemed perfect for the end of the year:
“I open my fingers— I let everything go.
Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.
I let it go, then I light the candle.”
As someone who is nostalgic by nature, I reflect on the past quite a lot, from the ancient history to ancestral stories, from childhood memories to pivotal moments in adulthood.
Something that they all have in common is their fleeting nature. Time passes, and we are left with stones and echoes. Children grow up, relationships change, celebrations end, mentors die, buildings are constructed and torn down, books are written, read, and shelved, the seasons change, the wheel of life turns.
We have these shining, glorious moments in our lives. Big ones like anniversaries and life-changing introductions; and small ones like sunrises with friends and wine enjoyed in the Spanish sun. Then the moments pass, and we are left with memories and sometimes a relic or two.
But what treasures are those memories! I think about the ones shared by my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my friends. We learn about a past we did not know, we recall share experiences, we remember those who are no longer with us. Memories are some of the most magical stories, because they bring the past back to life.
We live in such a time of technological abundance, and I wonder about the future of memories. It seems a contradiction, because if so much is recorded, surely the memories will be too.
When I was a child, my grandparents had just a few photographs, a family album, with delicate photos of great-grandparents or relatives, yellowing photographs of a distant ancestral home. They were treasures, but they told us little. The gaps were filled in with their stories. The stories were even more precious to me than the photos. The stories are what I take with me no matter where I am.
Earlier this year, I was sitting with friends in the hotel bar at the 2013 World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention (LoneStarCon 3) in San Antonio. Gary Wolfe was sharing a story about a writing workshop in Chicago that he visited a few times whose members included Gene Wolfe and George R.R. Martin.
As if on cue, George R.R. Martin walked over, and we asked him if there were any photos from those workshop days in his Chicago apartment. In typical dry, Martin-style, he said something like this (this isn’t a quote exactly; I’m piecing it together from memory):
You know, back in my day, we had these machines that were large and boxy and took some effort to carry around. They were called cameras. They were carried by these people called photographers, who would use them to take photographs of notable events and people. The rest of us, we did other things, like writing.
Today we have so many lenses by which we view the world: photos on phones, videos, texts and tweets. Will technology leave us with enough gaps to be filled in with stories? What will we remember looking back on those photographs and relics 25 years from now? Were we taking pictures and videos? Or were we doing other things, like writing?
Were we paying attention–to the smell of the air, the touch against our skin, the taste of the cheese and the wine? Or were we so preoccupied with the documentation, that all we have are the photographs?
I’m an optimist, so I’d like to believe that there are ways to use the gifts technology offers, while still being present. I like to believe that the real memories will endure, but I still worry.
So on the last day of 2013, I think about the year that is ending, so many moments that gave the year shape. I think about the relics that will remain, the photographs of our journey, the stories I hope I’ll remember.
We stand on the edge of 2014, and we can’t take everything with us as we make the leap into the new year. We need room for the new things to come in. So what do we hold onto? What do we let go of as we move into the next unknown?
In 2014, I hope that you find yourself in circles sharing memories and making new ones. I hope that you meet someone whom you admire, and I hope you find someone who believes in you. I hope that you have moments of glorious laughter and reverence. I hope that you sleep well and dream big. And when we circle round again to the end of 2014, I hope that you feel a part of something and have had a year filled with the best stories.
Blessings to you and yours in 2014.