Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Down the Rabbit-Hole: It's my memory, darn it!

So, I've been looking back on the first four parts of my personal memory this past week, ruminating on the way I've told this memory.  A few weeks ago, before the Christmas break, I checked that memory against some kind of official record (newspaper articles and my student papers) and teased out a few inaccuracies in my personal memory.  I also gave a few suggestions as to why some of those inaccuracies probably crept into my memory.  I suggested that the kind of story I'm telling (in this case, largely a coming-of-age story) was dictating to a certain extent what details I recalled and the order I told them in.

When I looked back at my personal memory a second time, I think I may have found a second narrative framework (called a schema in psychology) that may be unconsciously dictating the form of my memory, and it's not a very surprising one: The Laramie Project.  And for some reason, this annoys the heck out of me.  Let me give you a run-through and see what you think...

So, let's first look at how I decided to divide my memory into sections: four parts where there seemed to be natural divisions.   The first is finding out about Matt's beating and the confusion it created among all of us.   The second is the descent of the national media and clamming up, ending with Matt's death just after the vigil at the Newman center.  The third is my experience with the protestors and Angel Action, and the fourth covers the McKinney trial, but it's mostly organized around my awareness of my changing political ideals as a result of the incident.

Sound familiar?  It did to me when I put them all together.  In The Laramie Project, Act I ends with Matt's discovery and life-flight to the hospital, and our last voice is Dr. Cantway's realization that he had treated both victim and killer in the same ER.  That's how my first telling ends-- Matt's beating and discovery, and my realization that he and I shared a close association of friends.  This is all the more striking when I realize that I think I have the timeline totally wrong here, and I apparently fudged my meeting with "Sascha" in Prexy's Pasture to before Matt died.  I think this moment shifted in my head because Act I of TLP is serving as a narrative schema and dictating the order I recall the events.

The second part follows suit: it starts with our collective horror at the media descent, my aborted attempt to go to the vigil, and it ends with finding out that Matt had died a few hours later.  That's basically the story line for Act II-- we start with Jon Peackock's introduction into the media blitz and we end with Matt's death.  And the third part of my memory is no different-- it starts and ends with the protests, focusing on Fred Phelps and Romaine Patterson, as does the first half of Act III.

And the fourth part of my story?  Just as Tectonic zooms out to consider the political and ethical problems of how to deal with Aaron McKinney, I do the same thing-- I tell how I reconsider my own beliefs as a result of Matt's murder, and in particular, my stance on the death penalty.  It requires a little bit of shuffling and pasting as a result-- after all, I need to go as far back as the spring of 1999 to get that whole story of my political change to fit into one package-- but otherwise it follows the end of TLP pretty darn well.

You know, I shouldn't be surprised by this at all.  I've seen the play twice, and every semester I teach the play, I normally read it clear through at least twice.  I had taught this play for eight semesters straight before this year, so if you do the math...  yeah.  I've read this play a lot. 

But, for goodness' sake, this is my memory.  Tectonic's version, one would think, shouldn't have anything to do with my memory of this event because it came afterwards, right?  That's been one of my major hangups with the play: I haven't been able to tell people this experience without getting pigeonholed into Tectonic's narrative-- that Laramie is intolerant, that somehow Aaron McKinney and Fred Phelps define who I am...  and here I am unconsciously sticking myself into that same story.  I can almost hear them saying, we're in your head, Jackrabbit, we're in your head...  It's not fair.  It's my memory dammit, and they can't have it. 

But, I guess there are two other things I need to keep in mind.  One thing is that all memories need to have three things to be recorded: an emotional significance, clear cause and effect, and a narrative framework (a schema) that allows the event to make sense.  That's the problem with trauma and memory: often there's no clear cause and effect, and it doesn't make sense.  If I'm going to make sense of these eighteen months of chaos in my life, what other narrative framework do I even have to give it meaning?  TLP is the only narrative schema I have, really, that can speak sense into these memories.

Another thing I need to realize is that people feel an overwhelming need to place themselves in narratives that define who they are-- kind of like knowing where you were when President Kennedy was shot, or (for younger generations) where we were when you found out that the World Trade Center had been attacked.  When I teach Art Spiegelman's Maus, I really enjoy using James E. Young's criticism to help my students understand what's at stake for Artie when he inserts his own story into the middle of his father's Holocaust narrative.  One thing that Young posits is that Art Spiegelman has been so defined by his father's history that he needs to insert himself into the story in order to understand how this narrative has both scarred and defined him as a person.

The funny thing is this:  Young posits the need for a "vicarious past" for Artie precisely because he wasn't there for the Holocaust.  He needs to place himself in a history he had no part in.  I remember Matt's murder; I was there in Laramie.  So, why would I need to place myself inside this history, inside the one that Tectonic has fashioned?

Maybe the issue is control.  I can't control the narrative that Tectonic created for this part of my life, so I'm trying to understand it by placing myself in that same narrative framework.  That sounds...  a little neurotic, perhaps?   

In any case, now I feel slightly paranoid and a little silly.  Maybe there's no real significance to it at all.  I defaulted to the narrative schema I knew best, the only one that allows me to make sense of this tragedy.  Maybe it's just that simple. In that case, thank you, Tectonic Theater, for giving me a way to organize my own memories of this event-- but I still resent you for it.  So there

But, I have to wonder: what would this memory look like, and how would I tell it, if Tectonic Theater had never created such a strong narrative pattern with The Laramie Project?  Would I have felt such a strong, driving need to tell this story in the first place, and would it have haunted me to the degree that it has?  That's a much harder question to answer. 


1) City Limit sign for Laramie, WY, courtesy of jimmywayne's Flickr photo stream: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

2) "By the Window," from t3mujin's Flickr photostream:


Young, James E.  "The Holocaust as Vicarious Past: Art Spiegelman's Maus and the Afterimages of History."  Critical Inquiry 24.3 (1998): 666-99.

No comments:

Post a Comment