Memory Play

They're very interesting to me, memory plays. Memory-anything, really, but particularly memory plays, because plays are live and immediate and ever-changing stories. Some of my favorite and most formative theatrical experiences have been in some fashion memory plays, from

The Glass Menagerie


Franny's Way


As Far As We Know

. What I love about them most, I think, is the added layer of perception and perspective. They can be almost like meta-theatre in their effect, yet without a lot of self-conscious devices. As an audience we get to through layers of distance to empathy and recognition, and as players we get to ask really interesting questions: how true is this rendition, who's influencing the story, how much is this to be played as a unified series of events, and how much as after-the-fact fantasy? Finally, memories are stories we all have within us at every moment of our lives. It is fascinating to be invited into someone else's, real or imagined.

I'm almost done with my series of short plays inspired by reading

Mary Roach

's book,


(thanks, Nat). That is to say, I've almost finished writing a first draft of the whole sequence, as I see it now. It's been a big project, luckily entered into blindly and without expectation, so nearing a complete first draft is at once an accomplishment and a very small step in what ought to be a much longer process, if I really expect this writing to be produced sometime, somewhere. As I see it now, I've one-and-a-half scenes to write and I'll be ready to have that most cringe-worthy experience of early drafts: a first reading. These happen to be the last two scenes, and I'm not certain which will be actually last yet, but I am (maybe) halfway through the one that's actually only a monologue. And, wouldn't you know it? It's a memory play.

Memory monologue? That just sounds stupid, and enforces the idea that a stand-alone monologue has no place in a larger play. So: Memory play.

It's difficult. If I'm doing it right, it is more of a play than a monologue. It should have a little drive behind it, a little "umph" of conflict and action and, above all, it should change something. It's strange how it's all coming out. I've essentially set myself up a challenge: How would someone who lived to a ripe old age tell her life story if she didn't have all the time in the world in which to do it? I've made no preconceived decision about this (at least, not a conscious one). Instead I'm writing as ideas come to me, and trying to keep some feeling of urgency behind it, in conflict with the way in which pausing allows memories to flow better, and holding still allows us to appreciate those memories more. I'm not altogether sure it's working, and I suspect I won't know at all how it's worked until someone -- poor soul -- tries to perform it for me. As a writer, I'm also hampered a bit by knowing where I want to end up with this one. The idea for the end is what started me writing it. Knowing something like that is good for direction but, personally speaking, bad for writing motivation. I'm propelled by exploration, as my rambling 'blog entries must attest, which is what makes revision processes so difficult for me.

I have an ever-changing relationship with memory. Generally speaking, as a kid I took it for granted, as a teenager into young adult I wallowed about in it, as a young man I rather spurned it, and as an adult (or so I'm told I am) I value it in any way I can get it. All of that just adds up to a high value that I place on my stories, good, bad or (rarely) indifferent. Memory is tricky. I'm thinking a lot about the expression, "If memory serves...". Did this saying come about because we see memory as serving us, or because we recognized that memory is an unreliable thing, bound not to serve us? Or was it rather because we're more at the mercy of our memories than they of us? That's the way it seems to me, most of the time. Will I remember Wife Megan's recent warning about the weather forecast? Not a chance. Will I suddenly recall an episode from ten years past so vividly that I feel ashamed most of the day? Highly probable, at any given moment. Ah sentience! What a trade-off!

Finally -- in every sense of the word -- memory is all we are. What we've experienced is who we end up, one way or another, and when we're gone, what really survives past our ashes here but memories of us? So perhaps being lightly in love with memory as a general concept isn't all that strange. Maybe memories are brushes with something far-reaching and universal. They can certainly affect us, albeit some more than others.

And if I write "memories" one more time, will

that damn song

get stuck in your head too? Oh good . . .