Andre Dubus III read from his recent memoir, Townie, at Politics & Prose last night and seduced the audience with a fluid, twenty-minute excerpt from his first venture into the realm of memory. In that I have been giving a bit of thought to dreams and memory as they intertwine, I was struck by his reasoning for tackling a memoir, perhaps the most daunting of tasks for a writer. Advised by his friend, the writer Richard Russo, that unless one uses the memoir as a way to settle old scores, the whole world of personal recollection is fair game and fertile territory. Now of course fiction carries its own baggage and, in the right hands, allows the writer’s voice to soar; but for me it is almost always the foggy details from one’s past that — when brought to the surface through words or images — have the most power and the most clarity. Dubus posited that certain simple details from his past, shadows if you will, served as road markers in tapping his memory, allowing one door to ease the opening of the next.
Growing up, my own father reminded me (time and again) that memory is like a muscle and with care and regular exercise can serve one well throughout life. Ultimately, while I sift through the sheer randomness of my iPhone images, I wonder if my instinctual responses to the things I see aren’t but samples of the very same memory/shadows that haunt us all. Carl Jung proposed that dreams might be a window to our unconscious allowing the waking self a road-map to wholeness. His theory suggested that things in life exist as paired opposites: good and evil, love and hate, and ego and counterego, also referred to by Jung as the shadow.