This week, I interviewed an author who had written what seemed to me the odd choice of a childhood memoir-in-verse, but she explained she chose that form because memory comes and goes in bits, not separated into blocky and linear chapters and paragraphs.
I kept thinking of her words yesterday, separated from a sunlight-sparkling autumn day in a second-floor opera house theater, as I listened to trains whistling through town. The warning calls punctuated a very adult conference about children’s literature, and my attention kept straying to those mournful sounds as the trains chugged their slowed way through town. Like a fishing hook, the notes pulled up my memories, reminding me that the last time I had been in White River Junction was three years ago, myself and my family riding through on Amtrak, looking through the windows at this brick-building Main Street and wondering who lived here.
At the conference’s end, impatient to leave and return to my own life, to hurry home along the interstate flanked by maples turning red, a woman read aloud a children’s book I had heard as very young child. I put down the sweater I was knitting and just listened to the words, familiar from long ago. The train whistles kept calling: a collage of memory.
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.
– James Baldwin