Swallowing Pictures

grosvenor

“Deeper” was a word my mom used a lot. Not “more deeply,” but “deeper.”

“Remember deeper.” “Question deeper.” “Think deeper.” And always, always: “Love deeper.”

Mother was big on impressing upon my memory just who was the boss. She felt that the memories of most people were not utilized as well as they could be. She said that the memory was like a dog, and wanted to be trained. In fact, often, when I asked her to take a picture of a beautiful rock formation or sunset or lake or geyser or whatever else it was I wanted to remember from our journeys together, she’d just say, “Take a mind picture.”

The first time I remember taking a mind picture was in Kodachrome Basin State Park, when we were living in Utah. I wanted her to get a shot of the Grosvenor Arch, with the sunset pouring through it like a waterfall, but she was out of film. She threw her arm around me and said, “You take a mind picture, and I’d better take one too. Yes, that’s right. This scene is just too beautiful not to be saved for posterity.”

So we stood, side by side, both awed by the beauty of the great rock formations and the once-in-a-lifetime sunset.

“Okay, my darling. Do you know what you want the picture of?”

“Yes.” With my eyes I tried to catch the colors of the over-heated rainbow flowing down through the Arches and onto me.

“Are you looking at your picture right now?”

“Yes.” I squinted my eyes.

“Do you see the colors?”

“Yes!”

“Can you see the frame?”

“Yes!”

“Do you see the picture exactly?”

“Yes, Mother, yes!”

“Good. Now concentrate with all your might. Remember every ridge. Memorize every detail. Replicate every hue in your imagination. You got it?”

“Yes! I see it!”

“Good. Then get ready to swallow it. We’re going to swallow our pictures, okay? You ready? 1, 2, 3. swallow… Now!”

I swallowed. Then giggled. She giggled too, but took two more Swallowing Pictures before she said, “You will remember this Arch forever, because you have impressed it into your mind, my darling Tami. You just took a picture that can never be destroyed, stolen, or lost. You just took a picture that you can take with you wherever you go, forever, and no one can ever take it away from you.”

It makes me wonder if she knew, somehow, how my life would turn out.

train-tracks-at-sunset-huge

I have a soul in some notebooks

 

Some people have jewels in safe deposit boxes. I have a soul in some notebooks.

I have written in journals since sometime in the first grade.

I have written all kinds of things in journals. My deepest secrets, my purest thoughts, quotes, and questions on life, truth, tragedy and comedy. Anything that comes to mind. Sometimes it’s long prose, sometimes poetry, but often just ideas, or a funny remark that someone has said. Unfortunately, I am separated from most of my journals right now. Some I will most likely get back. Others, I know, I will probably never see again. But I will always have them in my mind. Because once you write something down you’ve built a road connecting the valleys of your own brain. You lay down some actual track when you engage of the act of writing. It deepens the memory.

At least, that’s what my mother told me.

It was my mother who made me obsessed with writing everything down. I was about four years old, sitting snuggled up close to my mother at one end of the couch with her reading to me, when she paused, leaned into my ear and announced, in her most majestic, secret whisper: “Once you write something down, it is in your memory forever. Did you know that, my darling Tami?”

Wide eyed, I shook my head. No.

Her big blue eyes were suddenly a dancing circus in front of my small face.

“The act of writing is a mystical thing,” she continued. “More than the mere marks written upon a page; writing a thing down can actually bring that thing into being. It is already halfway there as soon as your pen touches the page! And understanding? Writing will rain down blessings of understanding and knowledge into your life! I tell you the truth, my little angel, the ballet of the pen is, at times, divine.”

Then Mother paused, took both of my hands between her long thin fingers, and turned me around to facing her. She leaned her head slowly in and I followed with mine, until our foreheads touched, and I looked up into the kind face of my pixie mother’s sapphire-rimmed eyes.

“But you already knew about the mystical nature of writing, of course, didn’t you, my sweet Tami?” my mother asked, smiling.

I didn’t know anything at all about the mystical nature of writing, but I don’t say so. Mother gave my nose the lightest of kisses and then kissed my forehead with her slightly puckered lips, while fluttering her lashes like butterfly wings in my hair. 

(I love her love her love her.)

Still smiling warm sunshine, she took my left hand in her right, and mimicked writing on a page.

“The beauty of writing,” she said — while not so much holding my hand as dancing with it — “is that as your fingers skate across the page making the words on the paper they are also digging new little tunnels in your brain. A new road has just been built somewhere in your memory simply because you moved your pen. You will remember longer, because you have written a thing down. But more importantly,” she whispered, pouring her fairy-blue eyes into mine, “you will remember deeper, and if you should ever lose what you have written, it will remain, forever, deep within your soul.”

She made journaling sound like secret magic. And I wanted some.

My first diary, when I was seven, was leatherish with a metal attachment that clicked to close it. But just closing it didn’t seem safe enough to me. I wanted a lock. I wanted a place where I could write everything down. Everything. Anything. I didn’t want anyone else to ever read it. It was my magic journal. I was pretty sure that dad wouldn’t snoop in my stuff, but mom would read all she could. She would try not to, but she wouldn’t be able to help herself.  

It wasn’t her fault.

She was born genetically over-curious.

So I felt that I had to consider other security plans, so that I, too, could partake of not only the mystical side of journaling, but also get new memory tunnels in my soul and roads in my brain.

There were plenty of good hiding places in and around our house, and I decided that I could move the sacred book around so that it would most likely never be found, but that still left one other worry. People were always looking over my shoulder when I wrote. Mom did it without even meaning to. I wanted to take my journal everywhere, and I wanted to record in it under any and all circumstances.. I wanted to be able to write whatever I thought at the moment without the writing affecting any of the behavior around me, but that seemed possible only if people couldn’t read what I was writing.

So I began writing the way I had before I learned better.

You see, at the age of four, once my mother realized that our five-day-a-week treks to the library had morphed into her only child learning to write, or something like it I wrote “wrong;” that is, I reversed everything when I wrote, like a mirror, right to left instead of left to right – she intervened and ordered 2 big boxes full of teaching materials and taught me to read, and more importantly, to write.

Properly. Left to right.

It was difficult, but I learned. I don’t know why I had naturally reversed everything, and it would be years before DaVinci’s mirror writing became well known, so it was worrisome to my mom. I’m left handed, but so are a lot of people, and they don’t do that. I was still allowed to write my way, right to left, but I was encouraged, first by my mother, and then by the conformism of school, to

“write right.”

It always felt forced, and to this day my handwriting is much, much prettier when I write my way. Now, with this first journal, and my concerns about bearing my soul in it, I took back up my strange habit in force.

And I think that helped me to remember even deeper.

“Deeper” was a word my mom used a lot.

Not “more deeply,” but “deeper.”

I learned to write deeper.