When does an idle afternoon become cemented in your memory as a most treasured moment of your life?
In Richard Linklater’s recent film Boyhood, the story of a young man’s upbringing is told by focusing on the little moments in life, not the main events. I think that if you do see the movie of your life in the final moments of it, then it would be moments like the ones in that film. One of my most treasured memories is a quiet afternoon on a secluded beach, tossing pebbles into the Aegean with my three siblings. The shared moment seems to hang in the air in total stillness, suspended there with no sense of time passing.
Food is often something we do when we are filling time, waiting for something to happen. But then in our memories, it is the warming bowl of soup, the freshly baked loaf, the perfectly ripe watermelon which remains in our memory and is forever associated with it. So I was not surprised when Jenny Diski, who recently shared her cancer diagnosis with the world, finds this comforting memory amongst the jumble and trauma of her crazy childhood:
There they were. Bubbelehs, not just a private name for the delicious treat Bubba always cooked when she came to visit, but the pancakes of suddenly Proustian importance, made simply from matzo meal and egg, moulded into patties, fried and then dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
I first encountered Jenny Diski when I started reading the LRB about a decade ago, and it’s often the highlight of an issue for me. Learning about her early tumultuous beginnings, I’m in awe of how she not only has been able to write about so many difficult experiences with a sharp, poetic and humourous narrative voice, but also that she has found moments of loving kindness in them. Having spent the last five years trying to describe family dramas and tragedies, and reading disappointing renditions of others doing similar things, I’m simultaneously struck by the simplicity of her writing, and also its inherent genius.
In my experience, writing doesn’t get easier the more you do it. But there is a growth of confidence, not much, but a nugget, like a pearl, like a tumour. You learn that there is a process, and that it doesn’t very much matter what you write, but how you do it, that is crucial, and that nothing I wrote, or you wrote, is ever going to be the same as what she wrote and he wrote, unless, as Truman Capote said, what you’re dealing with isn’t writing, but typing.
Similarly, the final scene of Boyhood is both incredibly silly and wonderfully poignant. Imagine two stoned, beautiful teenagers watching a sunset from a viewpoint in the desert.
“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I know, it’s constant, the moments, it’s just — it’s like it’s always right now, you know?”
Those moments, man. They are inescapable.