In the same way that we see history as the study of the past, I sometimes wonder about the ability to tell stories without later reflection. If we can think so intensely and fondly of memory does that mean that in the moment, while the action was taking place, an equal relationship occurred? Or perhaps to phrase it in a less complicated manner: why are memories more romantic than the current moment? Does time give us context and reason with stories like it does when we decide what history to tell to our future generations? Does time erase the rough edges and smooth out the quiet, inherent optimism? Or maybe I’m even straying too far in trying to divide history and stories altogether; are stories just pure history that has been remembered differently?
As I work and live here on this island in Maine, I am accosted by the constant feeling that I need to be documenting every living moment. I need to write down exactly where I went today, what the tide looked like on the shore this morning, the names of all the dogs I pet.
But when we kayaked across the harbor and floated through the channel to see the lighthouse on a glassy seabed- as we were greeted by seals and pink skies- changing tides and changing light- sore arms but happy faces- a call halfway in the middle of the ocean to a restaurant saying we’d be late to our reservation- when I was experiencing this moment, my mind did not have space to document a perfect story.
As I sit here today I can romanticize that evening as much as I want. I can leave out that current that almost swept us away or convince you that we battled against it and reigned victoriously. I can add details that in the moment were not first-in-line in my head: the rhythm of the bell buoys matching up with the motions of our swinging paddles: the redness of the granite rocks that surrounded us.
Perhaps that is why writers go on retreats into silence, into spaces of less stimulation and more areas to think. In the same way that history can only be defined by looking back, I find it nearly impossible to write a good story as it is happening. Perhaps the story that goes on in the present; the story that is what you are experiencing, isn’t a story because it’s actually just life.
Working in a museum this summer has given me a better relationship with how I view the past because, in reality, the past is what we make of it. History is only the one folder I chose to open from the stack of infinite ones in the corner. History is only the details about our kayaking to the lighthouse adventure that I chose to include in my descriptions. We have the ability to shape our own history in the same way we select certain details to include in our stories. This is a curse but it is also a blessing.
I will never be able to sort through all the folders in the corner. Even the ones I go through will have missing pieces that I skip. And in the same way that I will never remember the exact details of every moment for my stories I need to realize that is okay. As long as we are trying to tell history, as we are trying to write stories, I think that is good enough. We can’t beat ourselves up about not getting every single thing right because our own documentation of moments will soon be a distant history.
I imagine that in a couple of months from now, maybe even years, I will be writing about my adventures in the summer of `21 on Mount Desert Island. Certain details will be jagged and others more smooth and thought-out. But that process itself, the process of waves continuously going over smooth rocks (memories) and causing them to evolve constantly is a history and a story within itself. One that no matter what, is worth sharing.