I write a lot about memory in my books. Good memories, bad memories, and especially false memories. My dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 62 and he passed at 69, so the horror of slipping into a milky haze of one’s own existence has never been far from the surface of my thoughts. My first published novel featured a memory-care facility a lot like the one my dad was in, and every subsequent novel contained some thread about memory woven through it. With The Dead Girl in 2A I abandoned that thread and made memory-loss the outright central theme of the book. I think writing that book helped me move a bit beyond my own fear about losing my memories, though whenever I walk into a room and forget why I went there in the first place it still freaks me out.
So here’s a fun little exercise. Set a timer for thirty minutes and write down specific memories of your life. You won’t be able to, but try to avoid recalling your easiest-to-access memories, the big life events like births, deaths, marriage, divorce, the Broncos winning the Super Bowl, etc. Clear your mind, think about different stages in your life, and see what smaller, almost random memories pop up. Write them down, and stop once the timer goes off.
I think you’ll find it interesting to see what comes up. Likely you’ll find some things in there you haven’t thought about in years, but for some reason they came up in the first half-hour of reviewing your entire life. Weird, huh?
Here are the results from my thirty minutes:
I remember a day in our backyard in New Mexico. Scrubby land, dry, huffing wind. There was a fire, but I don’t know why. This might be my first memory.
I remember a book fair when I was in grade school. I picked up a book way beyond my reading level and bought it. I think the name Emily was in the title. I don’t know who I was trying to impress. I didn’t read it.
We had a pet rabbit. He got hurt somehow. I remember finding him and it looked like his eye was hanging outside his head. He was still alive. I ran to get my mom.
I remember being out with friends wandering the streets on Halloween night when I was 16. A Santa Ana wind swirled around us. There’s something about a warm wind at night. I wanted it to be that night forever.
I remember drinking with friends in high school, then deciding to take some pictures. I perfectly caught the moment when my buddy vomited all over himself–for some reason, he was trying to catch it with cupped hands. Later, that print was accidentally included in a stack of photos I took with me when I studied abroad in France. A family member in whose house I was staying saw the photo and started screaming. My French wasn’t good enough for me to explain to her I had no idea how the photo got in that stack. I just sat there as she screamed French things.
I remember nearly getting killed by a lawn dart while playing a stupid game with my best friend in middle school. Lawn darts are illegal now.
I remember driving very late at night/early morning on the 101 freeway in L.A., almost falling asleep. At one point I saw a car far ahead of me go off the side of the freeway, but when I reached that area I didn’t see anything. To this day I don’t know if that actually happened or not.
I remember my daughter throwing up in a restaurant when she was about two, and I picked her up and literally ran out the doors and down the street as she continued to leave a trail of puke. I remember all the puke stories. She also puked all over me in a grocery store. Also, at a Red Robin.
I remember first tasting a Chipotle burrito and honestly believing it was the only food I needed for the rest of my life.
I remember seeing my dad after he’d been suddenly transferred to a different memory-care facility, where he’d been drugged to his limits. He was down the hallway, on the other side of the locked double doors, this ghost, this shell, wandering, stumbling aimlessly in that antiseptic corridor, not knowing where, or possibly who, he was. I burst into tears and said to no one, that’s my dad. Then I said it louder, and the third time I might have screamed it. This might be my worst memory.
I remember the look on my kids’ faces when they saw The Sixth Sense for the first time and we got to the big reveal. It took my son a few seconds longer than my daughter to figure it out, but he got there.
I remember watching the Packers playoff game where Aaron Rodgers successfully completed a Hail Mary pass, then thinking my son truly saw the face of God for the first time.
I remember the taste of filet mignon with a bleu cheese crust at a restaurant in Block Island. I have no idea what the name of the restaurant is.
I remember wandering among thousands of penguins in Patagonia, really wanting to pet one but not being allowed to. Also, I was a little afraid they would bite.
I remember my agent telling me you can’t write from the point-of-view of a bug. What did I know?
I remember the first time I opened a box of books that had my name on the cover. They looked beautiful, but they smelled fucking amazing.
I remember my daughter waking me up in the middle of the night to show me what the tooth fairy had brought. It was so sweet I nearly cried. Also, I thought, how can you believe in this shit?
I remember an elephant charging our Land Rover in South Africa. In the moment I knew it would be a horrible way to die, but I figured at least I was with Jessica and it would make a helluva story.
I remember arriving at my mom’s house for Christmas dinner a couple of years ago and feeling an overwhelming sense of ease, happiness, and comfort.
Last year, maybe around January, I remember talking to my friend about COVID and saying, “Wait, it’s just the flu, right?”
Time’s up, thirty minutes over.
See? I remember lots of things.
I have no clue what I had for dinner last night.
Meet me? Ha, ha, don’t be silly – I’m not coming anywhere near your germs, you filth-monger.
I have a few author friends who had to go through virtual book launches last year rather than in-store events, and I thought how tough that must have been. Well, who knew? It’s 2021, my book is out in May, and virtual events are still the thing (for good reason).
I’ll be doing some virtual events hosted by awesome Colorado indie bookstores (Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover, Bookbar, etc), so make sure to check my event calendar, which gets updated regularly.
I also do virtual book clubs, so write me if you’re featuring one of my books and would like me to join the discussion.
The all-mighty Kirkus weighs in on The Dead Husband.
What I’m Watching:
Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, (Hulu, 2021) – Stop everything you’re doing and go watch this show. Don’t have Hulu? Get a trial subscription. A friend sent me an email telling me to watch this and not to read anything about it before doing so. That was great advice, so I’ll do the same here and tell you only a few barebones facts about it:
- It’s a single show, not a series, about 90 minutes long
- It’s based on a one-man stage show that ran for two years under the same name
- You don’t know who Derek DelGaudio is, but you will never forget him
- It is equal parts beautiful, moving, and mind-blowing
- If you don’t cry watching it, you’re a monster
Cobra Kai (Netflix, 2018-present) – No other show on TV right now has as many characters who deserve to die agonizing and humiliating deaths as Cobra Kai. My kids and I started watching this on a whim, figuring a campy throwback series following the current lives of the characters from The Karate Kid would be cheesy fun. And it was, for awhile. Until the show started taking itself seriously (or became uber-ironic, which I’m not going to give them credit for). And yet we watch, mostly out of rage-glee. We all actually groan when certain character appear on the screen, like in 5th grade when your teacher announces a pop quiz out of the blue. I hate that we still watch this. Screw you, Netflix, and your deep understanding of the American psyche.
Bits of The Dead Husband
Up until my book launch in May I’ll be sharing snippets of The Dead Husband in this space. This month’s passage:
This is 2013 in Hong Kong. I met up with an old friend and we hit the streets on a Friday night and wandered about the bars until the early morning. I mean, LOOK AT THIS. So many people! No social distancing! Just hordes of drunk people swarming the streets.
Otherwise known as the good ole days.
Guff has been such a pain in the ass lately. He just follows me around the house and screams all day. A week ago I was gone for six hours and you would’ve thought he’d been shipwrecked for seven years with only a volleyball for a friend based on his reaction when I came home.