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Exploring the art of prose

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Author: Elizabeth Templeman


Author’s Note

Personal essays often begin with a burst, often fueled by insomnia. They can spin into being, nearly fully formed. This essay, however, was an exception to that serendipitous beginning. This essay was revised, and retired—over and over.

Today, I found a journal entry from August 1, 2006, written nearly six months after my father’s death:

Oh god, how to begin? To proceed? I have worked through this collection of thoughts so very many times in my head, running, hanging laundry, or driving down Highway 5 toward town. Again, and again, I end up with nothing in my head at all, only the memory of all those intentions and ideas, of all those frames I’ve constructed out of air and a moment’s reflection.         

I’ll plod along for another ten minutes, letting the clock guide me on this oddly unsettling day.

The entry kept going, evidence that sometimes just resigning myself to push on would do the trick. I segued from memory and fear of losing it into remembering another loss.

It might be a mercy that memory ebbs before death, as it did for my father. There was no such mercy for my friend Christie, who died the same year, ravaged by cancer. She died with her memory, and her intellect, painfully sharp, if trapped by an incapacity to express or to attend.  She was so keenly insightful in her life.  Even dying, she astonished me with the courage of her perceptiveness and the strength of will to engage it. 

 Though I forget so many things, I remember every detail of this woman. Sometimes she is more real to me than what’s happening in front of my eyes. She’s one friend whom I long to tell, in exasperation, about the newest things I can no longer remember. She and I would have compared notes (with her always winning in the memory department), and then we’d have laughed. Sometimes it was worth suffering the gnawing worry and annoyance of my forgetfulness just to share that laughter. But now I’m left with only the memory if it.

Although Christie doesn’t appear in this essay, her place in my journal is evidence that the act of remembering her did inspire it. Evidence which I had not remembered, and was happy to rediscover today, returning to the roughest drafts of this piece.

This past fall, close to two decades after the events captured within the essay transpired, I resurrected and reworked it. Considerably older, still and always a mother, I am now grandmother to four. As for my memory? It took me an embarrassing amount of time and effort to trace the number of years to come up with the “two decades” so casually mentioned just now. But while the capacity for nimble calculation is itself a distant memory, and I still struggle to recall place names or to contextualize details with any agility, these memories I capture in words hold their own.

 


ELIZABETH TEMPLEMAN lives, writes, and works in the Central Interior of British Columbia. A collection of her essays, Notes from the Interior, was published in 2003 by Oolichan Books; individual essays have appeared in The Globe & Mail, and in anthologies and journals including Room Magazine and Eastern Iowa Review.