Borrowed Memories, Refigured Realities, & The Call of The Wild

Lit by Guy Biederman, 07/01/11

"In some way I think every novel is (autobiographical). When you imagine a character, you lend him or her some of your personal memories. You give part of yourself to character number one and another part to character number two. In this sense, I am not writing any sort of autobiography, but the novels are my autobiography. There's a difference."
- Umberto Eco

As a fiction writer I sometimes forget what really happened and what I made up. Did my grandma actually know Pancho Villa and teach him to read in the flat desert of New Mexico and carry on an affair at age 19, or did I imagine that?

It could have happened - she was there, he was there. 1911. And because it could have happened means it might have happened. And because it might have happened means maybe it did happen.

But it also means maybe not.

Does the actual occurrence make it more valid?
Does an occurrence solely in one's imagination make it less valid?

If I lend my memories to certain characters in a story and they take off and run with them, do I get them back? If so, what shape will they be in?

Once a neighbor's daughter needed to read The Call of The Wild by the following morning for a class, and the bookstore was out of copies.

I said, "I've got a copy you can borrow", and brought it over. It was something of a collector's item, cloth edition, in a special box.

She kept the copy for several weeks and finally when she returned it, it was dog-eared and damaged and even the box looked as if it had been used hard. I was stunned. Was this my treasured copy? I became angry. But I didn't say anything because these friends are absolutely the best neighbors in the world. And they probably didn't know how she treated the book anyway.

And I thought, well, she got some use out of it. Hopefully, she read the story and was moved by it, and was able to not just complete her assignment but come away with something far more important than an assigned letter grade. Maybe it inspired her, and left her with something more, added to her life experience; the way I still remember that story, and Buck the great dog and his mighty adventures.

London himself was a rough and tumble guy, a socialist even - with a Mansion to be sure, though it burned down just before it was finished, but it would have been magnificent, perhaps not according to the party, but sheesh, strict consistency seems more facist than socialist anyway . . .

So my copy came back used and tarnished and beat up (London was a boxer, too!). It returned like a memory. And the memory that I have every time I open up that edition and think of our neighbor's young daughter (who has grown into an artistic, athletic, polite, free- spirited young woman) really getting into that story, oblivious to the pages on fine paper, the special box, well, that memory trumps the petty anger I allowed over her perceived lack of respect for my valued possession.

Besides, just as gamblers should never risk more than they can afford to lose, one shouldn't lend out something that may or may not come back in the same condition.

Including memories, maybe!

Talk about a hero's journey. That edition of The Call of the Wild underwent its own odyssey, adding to the stories it already holds inside, just waiting to tell.

Guy Biederman writes and teaches lowfat fiction, novel writing, and writing groove workshops throughout the North Bay, in addition to serving as a one on one writing guide. His new online class, Writing With Light, begins 9/10/11.

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