How do we preserve memory, how do we lose it?
"I picture her staring at the black-and-white image of her brain, not quite understanding what they are telling her.
The doctors, they point out the overall loss of brain tissue, the enlargement of the ventricles, the abnormal clusters between nerve cells, some of which are already dying, shrouded eerily by a net of frayed, twisted strands. They tell her about the shriveling of the cortex, which controls brain functions such as remembering and planning.
And that is the moment when in a flash, mom can see clearly, in all shades of gray blooming there, on that image, how it happens, how her past and her future are slowly, irreversibly being wiped away--until she is a woman, forgotten."
How do we preserve memory, how do we lose it? I am fascinated by these questions. My novel, Apart From Love, is inspired by the affect of Alzheimer's not only on the afflicted but on the entire family.
Ben's mother used to be a gifted pianist and is now stricken by early-onset Alzheimer's, a rare form of the disease that appears in younger patients than usual. In her profession she depends on her brain, and the fear of losing control is paralyzing. It takes a while for Ben to fully realize that her mind betrays her. Here he imagines her reaction when she is given the diagnosis, after many years of being misdiagnosed.
Can we put slang-speaking characters center-stage?
You may recall the play-in-a-play, performed by the rude mechanics at the end of Midsummer Night's Dream
, aptly described in their own words as 'The most lamentable comedy, and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisby.' These would-be actors, whose ability to express themselves is unabashedly mocked by their audience, were used by Shakespeare mainly for comic relief.
It was only later in the history of literature that characters of the lower class were taken seriously, and their point of view began to resonate, despite much controversy, with readers and theatre goers. For example, between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye
was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States. And yet today, it is recognized as an American classic, giving voice to teenage confusion, angst, alienation and rebellion. I suggest to you that in even today, there are two clashing views about the use of slang-talking characters, one from those who see themselves as 'upscale, educated nobility'--
and the other, the more 'democratic' one, from the rest of us.
You would be hard-pressed to find a three-syllable word in anything the female character in Apart From Love
says. Anita compensates for the lack of long words by descriptive, sensual sequences comprised of short words. She uses the dreaded double-negative, and of the word 'like', quite liberally. She talks in slang--
yet she is lyrical.
So I ask you: why can't a character combine both? Are we still bound to write for the Pyramus and Thisby audience? Even if your grammar is atrocious, even if your vocabulary is somewhat lacking, does that mean you can't feel the throes of pain, or the exhilaration of joy? Does it mean you can't paint in words what you see, feel and think? As you form your own answer, I invite you to sense the texture and the power of unrefined language, by listening to Anita's voice:
"What matters is only what's here. I touch my skin right under my breasts, which is where the little one's curled, and where he kicks, 'cause he has to. Like, he don't feel so cosy no more. Here, can you feel it? I reckon he wants me to talk to him. He can hear me inside, for sure. He can hear every note of this silvery music. It ripples all around him, wave after wave. I can tell that it's starting to sooth him. It's so full of joy, of delight, even if to him, it's coming across somewhat muffled. Like a dream in a dream, it's floating inside, into his soft, tender ear. I close my eyes and hold myself, wrapping my arms real soft--around me around him--and I rock ever so gently, back and forth, back and forth, with every note of this silvery marvel. You can barely hear me--but here I am, singing along. I'm whispering words into myself, into him."