“At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence.”
(Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters)
I have encountered a strange form of memory in the last ten months since we rooted ourselves into this house. The physical structure of the place was not a true "fixer-upper," as they say. Sure, we ripped up a few rooms worth of carpet and patiently sanded and stained the original wood floors. We knocked down a wall, gutted a closet and learned how to stand on a ladder, grunting and nailed up crown molding. But for the most part, the changes we made to make this house our home, were aesthetic, and we primarily used paint.
The painting was done in stages, room by room, in my afternoons of unemployment and the bright evenings of summer. I am a slow painter, but a deliberate one, carefully applying brush to wall. And since I started to paint, ten months ago, I've been listening to audiobooks while I work, letting myself get lost in an oral story while my hands coat our walls with fresh colour.
That's how I encountered that strange form of memory.
The words linger and echo so clearly; they hum in the silence.
Now, I associate corners of the house with the stories I heard while painting. When I look at the eastern wall of our living room, I think of Tolstoy and Anna Karenina; I can hear the voice of the narrator reciting scenes from Levin's conversion, so richly evocative. In our bedroom, when I stand at my dresser, I can hear the tales of Anne of Green Gables: stories of mischief and growing up. And if I pause on the landing as I descend the stairs, I am can hear Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot and see myself painting the ceiling leading downstairs; I'd duct-taped the paintbrush to a wooden kitchen spoon since a ladder on stairs just wouldn't do.
Other books were less memorable, and didn't leave their mark quite so plainly.
Have you ever experienced memories in this way?