Sunday, July 13, 2008

À la recherche du temps perdu

One of the benefits of an interesting life that has intersected with many others' is memories involving a broad range of people and situations, some of which become stories. But as I get older I'm often shocked to find how long ago some of those memories go back.

I was recently at an event with a young colleague who, as things were winding down, spotted someone very well known in the field that currently funds my shoe collection. "Look, ____ is here!" he said excitedly. "I'm going to go introduce myself. Do you want to come?"

It was late, and I was tired, and my usual aplomb had gone missing, perhaps because I didn't enjoy the event that much. "No, ____ was at a party at my house before you were born," I said. "You go ahead. I'm going to go home."

In the taxi, I wondered why I'd had such a visceral reaction. Part of it was my clear memory of that party, where dozens of fun people showed up at my 425-square-foot fifth-floor walkup. That included the police, because some of my neighbors were, understandably, upset that a band was playing.

Some of it was because I wasn't sure that _____, who was at that long-ago shindig as a friend and colleague of friends and whom I only knew casually, would remember, and I didn't want to take up a lot of time with it. Nor did I want to feel like some eager acolyte, which was appropriate for my colleague but not for me.

But I also knew that it had been about 30 years ago. We had both gotten started young, and when you are in what's essentially a young person's field, you don't necessarily want to be reminded that you've been at it for three decades.

I couldn't help wondering what would have happened if I'd stayed in that field for all that time, as _____ had. Would I have become a person who newcomers hoped to meet because of the quality and accumulated weight of my work?

A mental review of my resumé leaves me with no doubt of my accomplishments. But because they're across a wide spectrum, it isn't always easy to recognize them as being connected.

Maybe that's why I'm making these efforts towards a memoir - to have it all make sense. And because I like telling stories.

I haven't read all seven volumes in the semi-autobiographical series by Proust that gives this post its title, only Swann's Way. After years of writing primarily for commerce, I have many doubts about whether I can even write prose that can begin to approach art, though I'm not sure I need to. But I too am in search of lost time; the less of it there is ahead of me, the more of it I have to find by looking back.

(This is a facsimile of the last page of the series, available here. I do not plan to write by hand in a cork-lined bedroom.)

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