On forgetting

People joke about baby-brain. When you have a baby, according to the baby-brain theory, you become prone to forget things.

Okay, so at points late in my pregnancy and soon after my son was born I may have had trouble remembering my own name. Justifiably, I think. Because at those times the world recedes to a single point of focus: keeping the baby alive.

In fact, once the initial shock passes, having a baby gives you little leeway for forgetting. You have to remember a lot of things. Important things. All the time. Wash the bottles. Buy nappies. What time did he eat? Is that the same top he was wearing yesterday? Is it bath day? Where did I put the pants that don’t have vomit on them?

You are responsible for a small, helpless human. That human is counting on you to remember them and what they need every minute of every day.

Also, if you don’t remember, you go out wearing vomit.

But not only do you have to remember, you want to. Desperately. Because each day this small person grows bigger. Fuzz turns to actual hair. Eyes focus and gain colour. Babble becomes words. One day he can’t do something, the next day he can. It’s incredible to see.

Nietzsche says this (slightly paraphrased) about forgetting:

‘Forgetting is not simply a kind of inertia, but rather the active faculty to provide some silence, a ‘clean slate’ for the unconscious, to make place for the new…’

And there is something to that.

Forgetting is part of the process of creation.

On a good day, when I write I close up shop and the words flow through my fingers and the person that worries and thinks and recalls is gone. In her place is this process, which feels like a kind of emptying out. Everything else stops.

On any given day, however, nothing stops. Parent-duties trump writer-duties every time.

That being said, I can’t not write. Not writing would be forgetting who I am. It would be letting some crucial part of myself lapse, and that is something I cannot do, for my son’s sake as well as for my own. I want him to grow up seeing the people around him pursuing the things that they love, being who they are supposed to be.

So I am learning to forget on cue, within the bounds of nap time, or in that fading period after dinner before I pass out. I sit down and start work and fall into the story. What I wrote for the first six months after Jack was born was mostly unusable but practise, lack of time, tiredness and strict routine combine to make me quite good at this now. It is a strange fact that, if anything, I am more productive today than I was pre-baby.

Every time I sit down to write I forget all the ways in which I’ve previously failed. I forget all the people who have written wonderful novels, some of them a lot like mine but clearly (my brain helpfully tells me) better than mine will ever be. I forget you, standing behind me, reading over my shoulder, hating every word. Judging, always. I forget the house that needs tidying, the dishes that need washing. I forget how tired I am.

If I didn’t forget, I’d give up. And where would be the fun in that?

Because there’s another kind of forgetting. That’s the kind in which you lose yourself in something: for a moment, for a minute, for a day. Enough wine will do it. Writing will too, sometimes, for me.

I’m inventing a world! I’m putting people in it! Things happen to them, they feel things, they make decisions and they make mistakes… None of that comes from nowhere. Somewhere inside is everything I need to tell the story, I trust. (And if I can’t find it there, I’ll Google it).

But then, part way through, a smaller person tugging at my leg will remind me: I’m me. I’m here. I’ve got other jobs to do.

This is the best kind of remembering: how he wriggles when I try to kiss him, the sounds he makes when he laughs.

So I stop, for now.

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