My reading group has been meeting once a month for about twenty-two years – I remember, because when we had our first meeting – at Annicks, a small French restaurant in Brunswick Street – I’d just had a baby, now a lovely 22 year-old woman, who is for the moment cranky at the tone of voice I used when imparting ‘everything I know about making truly delicious minestrone’ (too bossy). I’m hopeless at remembering unless I have something like this to anchor an event.
My husband is (usually)(quite) amused at my complete inability to remember our wedding anniversary – but how on earth can I? I know it is either January 29 or 30 – but, come on – they are extremely similar dates – nothing too distinctive about either of them…and it only comes around once a year (plenty of time to forget). Of course I remember our real anniversary, December 18, the first time we went out – to that restaurant with the Basil Fawlty-like waiter – because it was the day before my then not-husband’s birthday. And I remember that date because it’s compulsory to remember immediate family birthdays, isn’t it?
At reading group – it’s no doubt one of the reasons for our longevity – we never have set texts; we just bring along whatever we happen to have been reading. Except occasionally. Like now, at Philippa’s suggestion, we are (re)reading the first volume of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, in the new translation, ‘In Search of Lost Time’, which I hadn’t read for about twenty-five years. I’d remembered Proust was funny, but not quite how funny: I’ve been laughing out loud. And I hadn’t quite remembered the high-wire risks he takes in leading the reader along a drawn out and many times qualified and re-qualified and refined and polished image in his perseverance to ensure he evokes something with sufficient precision. It’s not an anodyne read. Entering this reverie requires concentration. Sitting up in a chair, properly awake, not sliding down the bed, slipping towards unconsciousness.
Proust’s famous memory-jogger is a piece of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea. I want to mention three memory-related events.
The first is a creative journaling workshop I went to in Castlemaine several weeks ago – there will be others, and I can recommend it wholeheartedly to anybody interested in writing. Run by Simmone Howell and Lisa D’Onofrio, the workshop was a day of playful engagement in writing and memory. It was thought-provoking and enjoyable. There was no pressure to share work written during the day, but lots of people felt comfortable enough to do that. We could draw and paint and talk and even walk as well as write. A big sign for me that something is fun is that time flies by, and this day disappeared in a flash. Simmone and Lisa alternated the exercises, each one introduced in an inviting, well-considered way. One of my favourites was the writing that followed our mapping or drawing of a house or place from childhood.
The second is a blog post I read here a while ago at Baxter Street, writer Jen Storer’s lovely blog, which, in mentioning certain cosmetics, pulled me back into the seventies so fast I had whiplash. Pot’o’Gloss, Prue Acton Navy Blue mascara and Mary Quant crayons. That yellow tin box with the black signature daisy on the lid was in my hands. Favourite colours worn to stumps. Those crayons come pretty close to being my madeleine. I can smell them. And they peel memories.
The third thing was Terence Malick’s utterly gorgeous film ‘Tree of Life’ a confronting, beautiful, demanding film that asks us to consider memory, and humanity, and the nature of existence, and death, and which constructs the most luscious imagined ‘memory’ of the central character’s childhood. It’s Proustian; and it is a film that requires something of us. Some chewing. Some digesting. Hooray! Not everything needs to be pureed to death. There were lots of walk outs in the screening I went to. And my post-film bedazzled state was bitten into by the mutterings and grumblings of people who did not like the film leaving their seats with hurrumphs – ‘that wasn’t a film’, ‘who was Sean Penn meant to be?’.
In Jake Wilson’s review of the film in The Age 2/7, he recalls the Paul Eluard line used by Patrick White as the epigraph to ‘The Solid Mandala’ – ‘There is another world, but it is in this one.’
I loved it.