When you write books for teens and for children, it’s impossible to ignore how much of your own history you have lost. There are crucial details from my own past that would today be invaluable in my work: what did I talk about with my friends? How did I make those friends? What did I do with my time?
And yet all of these things are lost.
This is exactly what In Search of Lost Time is about. Because the process of becoming our current self inevitably destroys our past self, all attempts to write, since all writing inevitably borrows fragments of our own experience–at least when it comes to emotional truth–involve some element of archeology. We don’t remember our past so much as we reconstruct it.
But it’s difficult. Even when we recall things, the emotional intensity is faded. And sometimes what we recall most deeply is not what we need to recall. Proust’s narrator (who is also a wanna-be writer) found his answer to this problem: he relies on involuntary memory–the sudden flooding back of heretofore unremembered events and images and emotions. But I don’t know how well that will work for me. I’ve never experienced that sort of flooding back–at least not that I know of–and if I did have such a torrent of images, I’m not sure what I’d do with them. I certainly wouldn’t use them the way Proust did, by making a careful architectural arrangement of them and laying them out, along with exacting analysis, for everybody to see.
And yet I don’t know what I need. For Proust, his memory came flooding back when he ate a bite of a madeleine cookie. And I remember reading in the first volume of Marquez’s autobiography that at some point he was on a train and he suddenly understood something new about the nature of time–something that he’d been trying to work out in his fiction. And I’m led to wonder. What is that for me? What is my affair of the madeleine? What is my revelatory train trip?