I have finished the first draft of my new novel. Yea for me!
It is off at the editor’s and now I am stuck.
Stuck between that story and whatever come next.
Because I can’t quite shake that story. I’m still in there.
The story is set in 1968 and the main character is a junior in high school. Which is an amazing coincidence, since I just happened to be a junior in high school in 1968. The story isn’t about me though, except that the kid is funny and smart and oh-so-ready to trade the Funny and Smart for a little dose of Pretty.
And like me, my protaganist is stuck. Stuck between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out. Wanting to be like everyone else and wanting to be unique.
I think I am stuck there still. Maybe everyone is – throughout their lives.
Writing about high school more than 50 years later is an amazing experience.
Because it all returns. It’s not coming out of the mist. It’s tangible. It’s yesterday. I’m there.
I remember the corridors and the sounds that lockers make when they slam. I remember the smell of the heavy curtains in the auditorium, the worn spots in the middle of every step in the staircase. The display cabinets of trophies, the scratchy PA systems.
I remember every outfit I ever wore, and which ones were my favorites. I even remember specific outfits my friends wore. I remember my friends’ shoes. I remember the emphatic gestures of my French teacher. I remember everyone closing their books thirty seconds before the bell rang. I remember who sat with who at which table in the lunchroom. I remember hall passes and study halls, and pop quizzes.
And love and almost love and crushes.
And now that I have spent months writing about it all, I’m stuck there.
It makes me wonder about memory in general. My memories are so vivid, but does that make them true?
I have some friends from back then who are still my friends. One in particular spoke recently about a high school memory. It was a memory of ME. But the weird thing is that I didn’t remember the incident at all. How in the world can a memory of me exist apart from me? It’s like I’m starring in someone else’s movie.
But there’s no way I can tell my friend, No that didn’t happen, when her memory is as strong as mine is nonexistent.
Now why would that one little incident leave such an indelible print on her and didn’t take up even one cell of my own brain? I believe the answer must be based on what any experience means to you. So then, this little moment meant something to her, and not to me.
But then again, she doesn’t even know what it meant. Because it only meant something to her at the time, when the memory was made; not now. She doesn’t remember the why of it, only the what.
And here’s another crazy piece: Now, just a week or so after the conversation of the memory/memory lapse – I can’t even remember what the incident was. What were we even talking about, and what was this memory that she shared? It’s gone. All I remember now is being surprised that I couldn’t recall that moment. And now I can’t recall THAT moment, if you know what I mean.
How can I not remember the specifics of a conversation that happened a week ago? I remember 52 years ago, jumping up from my seat as the bell rang, and catching my skirt in the spiral notebook of the boy in the seat behind me, and how I lifted my skirt really high so he could unsnag me. How we were both embarrassed and delighted at the same time.
Yes I was stuck then too.
And yes, that scene appears in my new book, but in writing it, I let a friend have that little scene.
Let her wonder why she doesn’t remember it.