How to Write about the Past (by Aimee Herman)

Recently, I went for a walk. Air was tickling its heat against my bare skin: elbows, knees, thighs. The sky above was permed, curly white ringlets of clouds interrupting the denim blue. I had nowhere to be, so time no longer existed or mattered.

Between my fingers, I held onto Joan Didion’s “The White Album” with eyes tearing into each word as I hesitantly multi-tasked to look both ways and cross the street.

Suddenly, I hear my name and I am no longer in this day of present tense. I look to my right and it is my past. Pronouncing my name in a voice that no longer feels familiar. I feel shaken, stirred. I feel like an alcoholic beverage far too potent to swallow, so I swirl myself around, but do not swallow.

Sometimes the past taps us on our skin to remind us the impact and development of our present.

I write about my past tense all the time. When I sit to stamp out letters onto computer screens or drip them into notebooks, I think about the lineage of my scars. But I remain in the present to do this. This keeps me safe.

The present is my seatbelt, so that my past doesn’t fling me too far away.

I am intact. And I can continue writing from this place of long ago in order to understand it. In order to reconfigure it. In order to train it. In order to move on.



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