There are certain books — usually library books— with which I make an effort not to dog-ear pages. Instead, I slot my left hand’s fingers into the pages that I’ve read but must refer back to. (I’m not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition but I am going to (twice.)) I held onto pages often with Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. My memory was not sharp enough to differentiate the Ramsay children. I had to keep physically returning to the past action — the “biblio-memory,” to contextualize a certain character’s development. My left hand ran out of fingers and I eventually shifted to a post-it note method.
This first blog post serves as a page in my book to personally hold my finger on and remember my place. I think it's important to include you in this memorizing, too. We are page-holders for each other. Where was I leaving for Argentina? Who was I? What space did I hold?
I need pressure to write, which is why I am excited to pick up this blog again, but it is also a risky habit. I start doing what I just did…chopping my lived reality to fit the bounds of constructed narrative. My first words in my WFU admissions info sessions were “My name is Sarah Millsaps and I am fascinated by story-telling.” But I am also contemptuous of story-telling— it tempts me to tell only the parts that “fit” — the moments with which I can annotate a story-arc and produce a palatable denouement by the end of it.
One of the most challenging and helpful pieces of advice I have received is “Sarah, tell the stories that don’t fit.”
I hope to keep things complicated on this blog over the next 9 months. While I find the stories you can wrap up with a bow dubious, I have walked back towards the middle and understand that humans need stories. Fiction is needed as much as truth-telling. I am thankful that my memory doesn’t keep perfect record — it blurs harsh lines—a merciful salve for the gravest missteps.
I know only in part.
I used to hear this and think only of knowing the future "in part." But it is true of the past, too. I only know what I remember. How do I readjust my greed for control and enter the flow of “knowing only in part?”
I go with an intention to practice my memory. I want to keep my finger on my full-tilt reactions to injustice. What makes me beat my fists on the table? And what am I going to do about it? I want to embody the rhythm I practice in bread-baking — when is it time to “rest,” and when is it demanded of me to “rise?”
I am fairly certain that I only ever leave this place to experience the homesickness for it. By doing what I love most, I feel closest to whom I love most. Physical distance doesn’t threaten this. I remember that in Nepali, there is phrase that means “A memory of home came to me.” It is most often used when someone is asked,
“why are you sad?” and he/she responds,
“A memory of home came to me.”
Trust me, there will be moments in the next 9 months when I will break into a wide smile, a throw-my-head-back laugh, or yes, maybe a tear or two, and in Spanish, someone I have come to love will ask,
“Sarah, what’s up?”
And I will think of you, of home, of us, and explain:
“A memory of home came to me.”
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."