There have been, in the last weeks, so many things to do: speeches to write, visuals to prepare, plane trips that require me to be patted down and my bags unpacked and gone through by hand because my books and my computer cord in my carry-on are so close together in the x-ray screening that the entire line was nearly shut down to deal with the threat that is me. But now I am on my way to Los Angeles – five airborne hours – with nothing but the present moment. I can read the book I brought – Amy Waldman’s The Submission – for nothing but pleasure. I can daydream. I have been preoccupied with what to say to an audience I cannot yet see and whom I have not met. But to decide so far in advance what I should offer them and what they need to hear is to constrain the future. To predetermine it and make it less than it might otherwise be. I am not an historian, or an expert, or even an advocate. I am an artist, and a witness, and so I have decided to lecture less and engage more. To be in the moment when it comes. Wish me luck.
If the past has already happened; if it is an event or thing that is at least as far away from “now” as the split second we need to begin to describe it…
And if the future is a realm of possibilities that might manifest someday, but that exists now only as fretting and testing and planning, and if the future too is also something that is far enough from us that we can put words and consideration to it…
If both of these are defined by our ability to articulate them…
Then what is the present?
And what is memory?
Memory is the way we choose to describe the past, from the moment we are in now when we make that choice. A moment which is, of course, “future” to that past we are describing on the timeline we all believe in.
Memory is our only tool to understand and keep the past, whether it is our own memory, or another person’s, or a compilation of memories set down as history in a book.
But if we continue to move into the future, away from the past, and if our lives contain an always new and different constellation of events and perspectives as a result, then the past is always new because the future is always coming.
As this happens, memory changes.
And the past changes too.