You often hear as a writer to "write what you know." But what if you don't remember the things that should matter, the things you should know?
I'm thinking about memories today. I watched a documentary on it on WTTW some months ago. A few psychologists conducted experiments in which they implanted false memories into people by gradually supplementing details into their sessions. They were able to convince patients that they committed a crime and even that they witnessed something horrific. False memories--it turns out, are things we create all the time. We forget details and change them. We imagine them based on probability or context when some parts of the event have left our heads.
I mean, I distinctly remember being out with my sister when I was about five and it was so windy out that I was lifted off the ground and would have almost flown away were it not for my sister holding me down. I know it sounds crazy but my sister remembers this too. Did that really happen? Did we share the same dream? Were we high on sugar?
I know, this memory stuff is fascinating. You can read more about it here.
Anyway, I'm thinking about pivotal things in my life because I'm thinking about heavy things. I'm struggling with revising my book, wondering where the tangential part of me came from in my last few chapters.
Write what you know.
The reality that I have known has been dominated by my identity as an Indian American. As a Muslim kid who doesn't practice her religion and feels bad about it for a variety of reasons. My book is about an Indian American teen much like myself and the plot manifests a fear I had when my ma opened a convenience store post-9/11.
I feel like I'm missing something though, some...culture. Most of my family is in India. Eid just passed and for the past few years, I have wished to have friends and family to have big parties with, to celebrate like so many do. Then I started to think about my time in India. I lived there for two and a half years when I was younger, and realized I couldn't remember much.
I don't remember a lot from that period in my life but I really wish I could. I mean, that's where my ma was raised. I remember going to Quran classes, not seeing much of my older sister, losing jewelry left and right, vaguely learning to haggle for sabzi, crying hysterically on the phone when my mom called from America, wanting all of her attention when she came to visit, running to the store to buy Lays with the rupees she gave me...
But I don't remember much else. I wonder how retaining everything else about my mother's motherland would have impacted my writing, how it would have impacted me. How would I know?
I've been thinking a lot about race lately, I'm sure a lot of people are. So many of my recent years have been filled with apprehension. So many have been filled with a silent gnawing. But the racism I have experienced isn't what I want to become. I don't want it to take over the identity I have chosen to give myself and more yet, I don't want it to be an identity writers like me assume for themselves (unless they want to, by all means).
I have been reading more work by Desi authors and racism and religious persecution is by and large what the books are about. I get it. I shouldn't be talking because my book is about that, too, but I hope that won't be my only story. I have been rehashing my anxieties, re-conjuring the hatred I have felt for the strangers who have wronged me, but I want there to be more.
I love reading about different Desi experiences. I love being able to relate. To finding inspiration and role models. People are shitty, but a lot of people are good, too.
No one says we can't write about shape-shifting cats or magical lands and if they do, don't listen, they're obviously idiots.
There is so much more to our story.
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