Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Grammar, Photos and Memory: The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond


(In which I learned and remembered.)
***

I finished the book earlier than I was able to buy the next or have the tests and progress reports ready. I think I owed it to one sleepless night. But I don’t regret it. This is one of the books that you can’t just put down. It doesn’t have a very complicated plot not equally complicated characters in personality and in number. At first I find it a little boring since everything only revolves around sentences that go like “There is a girl. Here name is Emma. One moment she’s with me, and then she’s gone.” But then I found out that it is indeed the only thing that drives Abby Mason – the mystery of a child’s disappearance. And the search starts from that fateful day at Ocean Beach and it is also the same place she returns to after a failed search. My interest in the story builds up as she finds clues that will lead her to the missing child. All throughout the story she tries to unravel not only the secrets surrounding the incident but also her life and the mystery of the human memory.

The Year of Fog tells the story of a woman’s restless heart and incredible determination. When everybody else gave up and everything seemed to be useless, she always finds a way to get her closer to Emma. And even if she doubts her memory and realizes that it is a terrible traitor, she learns that there is nothing else she could rely on but her ability to recall the past. The search goes on and she later finds out that losing something may mean losing everything and possible reunions may lead to a painful departure.

***

Not only did this book enlighten me about memory; it has also challenged or should I say, reinforced, my knowledge in English grammar.

Here’s the situation: Abby Mason went to see a hypnotist to help her remember things that might have the clue as regards to Emma’s whereabouts. She’s looking for a detail, whatever form it may take, however little it is. All she needs is to find Emma and she is willing to do everything.

I sink into the recliner, feeling at an immediate disadvantage. Dr. Shannon is high up, in her hardback chair, while I’m down low with my knees in the air. “Before we begin, you should know a couple of things,” she says, staring at me with a disturbing intensity. “First, memory is a deep sea.”

I nod, mesmerized by her pantsuit, her whimsical ideas about color, wondering where she got the idea that orange is the new black.

“Second, one cannot conquer memory, just as one cannot conquer the sea. One may dive into it, explore, but one may not own it. Understand?”

I nod again.

“Third, one must always come up for air. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to help you dive in, then I’m going to lead you up for air.”

“Okay.”

- The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
Chapter 54, pages 245 - 246
I got mesmerized by the way Dr. Shannon makes Abby understands the complexity of this task. But I thought she should know a couple of things. So when I saw the word third, I came up for air; then submerged myself again into the words.

What? Three is a couple?

I was reading it while my student was answering an activity. I couldn’t contain my disbelief that I told him what I saw, which turned out to be a bad idea since he got more confused.

I ran an internet search and found out that “a couple of” could be used for more than one thing but not more than three. In that case, I’d rather use “a few” when it’s three and use “a couple of” when it’s two.

Settled.

***

Four of the remaining kids left for home yesterday. And several times during my class with Judah, kids knocked on the door and asked us to write on their journal some farewell messages. I was never good at goodbyes and as expected, I pulled out the “Nice to meet you and take care” trick. It’s an overused message anyone writes on anyone else’s scrapbook.

Charlotte, Sandy’s friend, knocked on our door and displayed her digital camera once in our room. She asked me to pose and I did, just to get it over with. Then it’s Judah’s turn to smile to the blinding flash. He hesitated and the two argued in Korean.

“Aysh!” Jude protested and shoved the camera away.

“Why?” Charlotte asked, with her distinct childish East Asian accent.

“I don’t want,” Judah replied and thumbed his book. Charlotte was more persistent this time.

“I have to! You have to!”

“Why?” Judah nodded

“If not, I will forget!”

I swear that at that moment, I remembered Abby Mason.

Photographs represent our endless battle against time, our determination to preserve a moment. . . I have a hunch that our obsession with photography arises from an unspoken pessimism; it is our nature to believe that good things will not last.

We put such faith in this flimsy mnemonic device, a moment written in light. But photos provide a false sense of security. Like our own flawed memory, they are guaranteed to fade. Over time, the contrasts within a photo diminish, the contours soften, the details blur. We take photographs in order to remember, but it is in the nature of a photograph to forget.

- Chapter 15, page 157
***

Most of the people I know will tell me I have a good memory. But I don’t tell them that for them to retain their status in my memory bank, they either have to be positively or negatively special. My memory seldom tolerates those in between

The first time I met Alvin was when I bought this book. Before going home, we sat down and rested on an empty seat at the mall’s food court as we removed the price tags on the items we bought. That was less than a week before Christmas and we secured some gifts for people who matter. In my case, they are my newfound friends, my best friend and my family. In Alvin’s they are his nieces and nephews. Well, they were the ones for whom he bought the books.

While we were talking, it was plain that he is a comedic person. And I was an easy audience. I narrated and he made fun of Quasimodo. Then we talked about the poser from Radius. He told me about their conversation a week ago and I was able to remind him some parts of the story when his memory fell short.

He looked at me and grinned.

“Wow. You have a photogenic memory!” he said and motioned his index finger as if to say “You got it right!” then he smiled.

I shook my head, laughing. I told you I am an easy audience.