Monday, May 7, 2012

garden-variety nostalgia

I just read Truck, by Michael Perry, published in '06 but I only recently came across it. One of the several threads running through the tale is the process of restoring his 1951 International pickup and getting it back on the road. With humor and affection he describes the truck's history and that of the International Harvester Company, interwoven with stories of his rural Wisconsin life. Love, gardening, and the nature of nostalgia are other themes. No surprise that I fell for the book. I chuckled aloud many times, and there were passages familiar to my own sometimes inexplicable, but ineffable, sense of nostalgia.
At one point while in NY he makes a visit to the Whitney especially for Hopper's 1948 work Seven A.M, which he had seen once before and longed to view again. I also like the painting a lot and I post it here for those who don't know it.
 "I see Hopper's white clapboards and I know exactly how their paint will smell in the afternoon sun..." He connects to so many elements of the painting; it elicits such tangible memories for him, some he can explain, some are beyond explanation, which I understand.
"What I get," he writes, "is the sense of waiting, of stillness, and how it feels when you rise with the sun and find yourself apparently in sole possession of the world."

I won't excerpt the whole thing, but I feel that he gives as sensitive and thoughtful critique of the painting as anything I have read concerning Hopper's work, and anyone who knows my own paintings can imagine I've read a fair amount. These few lines, possibly out of order and conflated, I've no need to further expatiate on. He suggests, "We sort the past in an attempt to sort the present and anticipate the future... The hope is that by inhabiting moments that are unavailable- because they are in the past or never existed at all- you will be arming yourself to recognize the real thing in real time. That you might recognize the moments you long for when they are happening."

Personally I identify, and that might be because the author is, at the time of the writing, only a few years older than I am now, and that is part of the incongruity. We both find a path to our own memories by means of these old pictures and objects. However, I think plenty of older people revisit their memories simply (if poignantly) as a means of connecting to their past selves. To think, reflect and dream.

I am reasonably sure I will return to this again, particularly because I like the idea of learning to recognize the 'real thing in real time, as it is happening' in my life. I am reminded every day that there are limits to the usefulness of getting lost in thoughts of the past, while acknowledging that some memory-traveling journeys are integral to my process.

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