Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Temporal distortions

Street view
Proust was on to something. Lost time, indeed.

I stumbled onto a blog post yesterday about my hometown, St. Louis. For whatever reason (and everyone who doesn’t live in their hometown gets this from time to time), I was filled with a gooey nostalgic feeling that prompted me — unwisely! — to think about my past.

It’s unavoidable, I guess, but by and large it’s something we should avoid. Thinking about our past. If the Cardinals had won the World Series, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the trap quite so easily…

Anyway, it hit me. Some of the most important, formative periods in my life were only a few months long. At the time, they felt like — “my life” — but it turns out that they were mere blips, moments, snapshots. Yet they were crucial in making me the person I became. Am.

Take the Street View shot above. It’s the intersection of Euclid Ave. and McPherson Blvd. in St. Louis. I lived in that block of McPherson when I was twenty-two, and as The Weavers would say, Wasn’t that a time. A small group of friends and I worked in the neighborhood, and because we got off work at midnight most of the time, we’d hustle down to Llywelyn’s Pub (second building from the corner in the photo) for a couple of cheap Pabsts before last call. We talked about the things that were important to us. That is, Everything. We’d gone to high school together and, though we didn’t know it, we were in the act of jettisoning our past, like rockets approaching escape velocity. The neighborhood was our new turf.

I came out of that period thinking of myself as a writer, so of course it looms large.

Two other key moments were just that: moments. I lived in Newport News, Virginia, for less than a year when I was eleven. My family was fine going in but didn’t survive the leaving. It was my Huck Finn year, I guess you could say, when the grip of childhood was loosening but I wasn’t fully aware of what the adults around me were going through. I was in the woods, oblivious.

Then there was my year of college in London. It was sweet and painfully short, so I went back for the summer a year later. Both flashes in time were pivotal for me, and over with in a blink.

But are those times really lost?

I don’t want to have to read Proust to find out…


15 comments on “Temporal distortions

  1. sknicholls
    November 11, 2013

    Whenever I visit my father in my hometown, I am taken back to my childhood, when things were simpler. I recall raising my own children in another small town nearby. Think of all of the places I have traveled to since in this country and others, but none give me quite that same sense of belonging. Unfortunately, everyone I used to know there is either dead or disabled. Except my dad, his wife and my half sisters, their children and my son. Kind of sad.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 11, 2013

      Memory and self and nostalgia are pretty complicated things, aren’t they. I think I’ve finally figured out that things weren’t simpler in childhood. They were simply being viewed by a child.

  2. 1WriteWay
    November 11, 2013

    Oh, dear, I’m fixing to publish a post on my childhood home. Have I been infected by some Proustian virus? Are you a bad influence on me, Kevin? Just kidding. As it turns out I went back to my home for a visit recently and saw some changes that make the idea “you can never go home again” a bit more concrete. I wish I remembered more of my young adulthood, when I was going to community college, belonged to a literary guild, and was being mentored and guided by a wonderful professor and a very supportive group of fellow students. I could spend a lot of time musing over what would have happened if only … But these memories are fodder for our writing, aren’t they? I don’t think they’re lost. I think we can recreate them through our writing. Granted, we might embellish but we can’t help it. We have imaginations.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 11, 2013

      First of all, I love the expression “I’m fixing to…” Makes you sound like Scout Finch. ;o)

      Anyway, it’s true. Our memories are really the raw material we all use, even if we apply it to present elements or even fantasy. We’re always in our protagonists, and we’re investing in them our take on the world (or making them play against our take…).

      BTW, I’m working on something set in upstate New York. Auburn/Batavia, that area. Where did you grow up?

      • 1WriteWay
        November 11, 2013

        Fort Hunter. Google that and see where it gets you ;). Located about 35 miles NW of Albany. I think Auburn/Batavia is further south. Have you ever checked out http://www.city-data.com? It’s great for looking up places … Usually I’m looking for a new place to live but it’s also useful in getting info on locations. BTW, I’ve pass the halfway mark in NaNo 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        November 11, 2013

        Fort Hunter. Is that Richard Russo country? The Mohawk River sounds familiar… And close to Adirondack Park too. Must be nice up that way.

        Thanks for the tip on city-data.com. I’ll definitely use it!

        And great news on NaNo. You can finish early and cruise for a week. 😉

      • 1WriteWay
        November 12, 2013

        Yup, Richard Russo was from Gloversville, a nearby town once famous for, you know, gloves 🙂 I need to read his book about Gloversville. It was on the decline when I was growing up, but its interesting to read about what used to be. And it’s gorgeous in the Mohawk Valley and around … not that I’m biased 😉

  3. ericjbaker
    November 11, 2013

    I usually only remember the embarrassing, failing parts, which gives me that, “It’s been a string of embarrassing, failing parts,” feeling about life. Luckily, towns in central Jersey tend to blur one into the other, so no one street corner is likely to trigger a memory or a feeling.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 11, 2013

      A string of embarrassing, failing parts is actually good for central New Jersey. Congratulations!

  4. J. S. Collyer
    November 12, 2013

    Great post. It’s amazing when you look back on things and how they’ve impacted on you today. Scary and wondrous all at once.

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 12, 2013

      And it’s really weird how perception of time changes as we age. (You can take it from me!)

  5. margaretjeanlangstaff
    November 12, 2013

    Man, I know the feeling. Like a sweet all-pervading ache. Hey, read Proust anyway. He’s worth the effort. Ironically, you lose track of time reading his magnum opus about “lost time.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      November 12, 2013

      Does reading Swann’s Way about forty times count? (Always with the best of intentions…) 😳

  6. margaretjeanlangstaff
    November 12, 2013

    I here 41st read-through is a charm 😉

  7. margaretjeanlangstaff
    November 12, 2013

    I meant HEAR, haha

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