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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Wednesday Writing Assignment

Occasionally, my own emotional reactions surprise me. My Monday night class this week was one such occasion. We enjoyed a very intelligent guest lecturer on classical Chinese medical literature. She explained why she chose to learn classical Chinese, the problems inherent in translation, and led us through a small demo of how one would even begin reading Chinese. (I'd never thought of this, but how do you look up a Chinese character in the dictionary? Hmm?...Now I know. It's complicated.)

As some of my dear readers know, I majored in Greek civilization for my BA, and spent a whole lot of time reading Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and Homer in ancient Greek. I drank in lectures on the snares of translation and what was really meant in Line 62 of Book 4 of such-and-such a drama. And although it's not quite memorizing 217 classical radicals by heart, I mastered a different alphabet and some crazy grammatical structures in the process.

And so, at this week's lecture, conflicting emotions welled up in me; there were, after all, many parallels to my universe of four years. At the same time, I thought, "God, I miss this stuff. I remember what it was like," and, "Whoa--thought I'd left this shit behind!" The former thought made me want to enroll in a classical Chinese course right now, even while the latter made me want to bolt from the room. The most touching moment occured near the end of class, when our guest teacher read aloud from a translation she'd done years ago. She began weeping, apologized, and started over. The text moved her deeply, especially because she hadn't read it for years. (No doubt she was having a similar memory rush to mine.) I thought, I know, I know just how that is. That's Hektor and Andromache on the walls of Troy for me.

The assignment, then, has two questions folded in. Tell us either about a time you were surprised by your own emotional reaction, or about a time a flood of memories washed conflicting emotions over you. Bonus points if you work in both.


Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Oooo--I get to throw in someone ELSE's surprise, as well! C and I had an . . . odd start to our relationship. I didn't know he was married when we met, in part because (a) neither of us expected the relationship to take the direction it did, and that wasn't relevant information, and (b) he was actually separated from his wife. A whole bunch of stuff happened in the space of about two months, including his decision to divorce and including him telling me he was married . . . and had a kid. Okay, cut to our First Date restaurant, where we're sitting across the table from each other. He tells me that I'm the most amazing person he's ever met. Imagine his surprise to see my face contort in disgust! And my heart did, too, though, of course, there was also pleasure, because he clearly meant what he said.

What was wrong? Well, I explained to him, that was the line I'd heard several times in my life as some guy was telling me that, basically, I was too much for him. I was amazing, but he wanted boring. Or something. So, really, I'd come to associate that phrase not with compliments but with someone dumping me.

He still likes to tell me that I'm still the most amazing person he's ever met. I just think he needs to get out more.

9:03 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Great story, Emma.

11:29 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Yes, that is a really sweet story. We should totally do First Date stories next WWA, if you ask me.

My answer for this one to come, later today.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

A few years ago, I had something to take care of in my old hometown--not the one I did most of my growing up in, but the one before that, where I lived until I was seven years old. And I figured I'd try to find my old house, based on whatever I could remember of the route there from the highway. My mom had told me she'd heard the new owners had done some renovations or additions or whatnot, and I thought hey, that'd be fun, to see that.

Surprisingly I found the house with no trouble--I had some instinct telling me, turn left here, yes, go down to that street, turn over there. It was all built-in somehow, though of course any memory I had of it was from the vantage point of the back seat of my mom's station wagon, but I guess it stuck.

And there it was: my little house, our little one-story house with the green fence I climbed through that time the dog chased me, and the tree in the front yard that was the only thing I'd ever climbed, until earlier this year in fact. And next door was where that kid John lived, my best neighborhood friend, and down the road was Matt's house, the older kid, the one we wanted to be like. And the shed in the backyard that was my hiding place. And the dead end where we all played kickball on summer evenings.

Except two things: except that the tree wasn't there because the owners after us chopped it down and pulled out the stump; and the fence was bigger now, and not green anymore; and there was a car parked on the fucking lawn; and the shed was just vanished, like I'd been making it up all along. And the house was still one story tall but somehow... longer. Oh, that's right: they built a garish disgusting patio thing on the right side of it.

So, except for that, and except for this: I've never thought of myself as having had a particularly idyllic childhood. I don't remember many good things about growing up, and I remember a lot of bad ones, but sitting there in my car by the curb outside this house, I realized that all that bad stuff didn't start until we moved. This house, this neighborhood, was actually pretty good. I was a pretty happy kid here.

And then I thought, I was once a happy kid? (Cue flood of memories, cue conflicting emotions.)

We develop this definition of ourselves, you know, and most of it is true but some of it is based on what we leave out, what we've forgotten or chosen to dismiss. At some point I began thinking of myself as Someone Who'd Had an Unhappy Childhood, and just filtered out the evidence to the contrary. If not for that visit I would never have remembered ever playing kickball with neighborhood kids on summer nights--I mean, what was this, a Beverly Cleary novel? But looking at this house and street were like remembering someone else's life, something I'd been privy to but hadn't experienced for myself. It felt distant and also deeply personal.

And then I felt angry at these new owners who had desecrated this ground, who had robbed their own kids of that tree and shed and fence, who made a lovely little start-up home into a neighborhood eyesore. In the same moment as I'd become reacquainted with something, I had to come to terms with its not existing anymore. It didn't seem fair.

I haven't been back since, though I probably will visit again when I'm in the area next time. In a way it feels like my corner of the world to watch over, keep tabs on. It's an echo I want to try to sustain somehow. But not without some difficulty, the difficulty of reconciling my vague memories of the place with the way it feels a bit like the set of a movie I saw a long time ago.

As the fellow said, home is the place you can't go again.

1:14 PM  

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