In terms of imagery, Patricia Hampl takes the reader by the hand and leads them like the young girl narrator who is being taken for her first music lesson. She uses a variety of techniques in providing her images such as:
- Emotional overtones of the repeated sweet ice melted, music melted, we all melted
- Analogy in the white plate of her broad, spotless wimple and the cat as reader, dog as writer
- Change of light quality—the pianos gleamed, white keys gleamed to offer up the epiphany that the middle C was the center of the world
- Physicality—as my eager eyes probably did “gleamed” again
- Bolding of text QUESTION AUTHORITY
Imagery is the entry point for the essay and then is used to enrich the essay examples throughout. The subtext captures the gleaming light, the music, and that “QUESTION AUTHORITY” statement to both ask why writers should write essays and why a writer’s authority is questioned.
Tortured artistic flair seemed to be the metaphor for the theme behind Patricia Hampl’s essay on Memory and Imagination because on one hand, she could pick wonderful words and images, but on the other hand she had to question if this was what she meant to say, and then get focused back on the topic of writing a memoir. Imagination came into being in the white spaces where her memory deserted her, but also came about from an unconscious desire to write about certain topics.
In the process of examining a childhood memory, Patricia Hampl also wrote about four topics related to memoir writing:
- The importance of memoir to society
- The importance of memoir to politics
- The importance of emotion in evoking memory
- The importance of metaphor in memoir
For her, it seems that memoir is a way to examine what the writer finds of importance and by examining what is written, to explore its ability to find what the writer has learned in life. Emotion played a powerful role in this analysis. Where the heart of the piece resided was in where this memory from childhood connected her—the answer being her father. Importance lay not in the images, or the details, or the accuracy of what she wrote, but in her desire to play music with her father and her desire to burst out of her dependent role as a child into someone who actively pursued an interest.
In terms of structure, I felt that the initial image was offered up somewhat like a coda in a musical piece, every time it repeated, every time she went back to her source, the reader learns something new in the art of writing memoir. I thought this was rather effective, sort of like bolding a paragraph title and saying, where do we go from here. It didn’t necessary lay out her topics in a “I’m going to talk about A, B, and C” manner but it did reassure the reader that we would find out her thoughts in good time. Finally, it made a statement to me that when women have the authority of their work questioned, one of the tactics men use to intimidate women writers, that they can use the authenticity of their experience in the form of memoir to say so.
How did this essay help me?
Well, it provided a concrete example of how “creative” nonfiction can veer slightly away from truth in memoir due to lack of remembered details into a more readable experience. It also showed how a writer can use personal anecdote to talk about another topic entirely. Three, it showed an alternate way of using an organizing principle, especially one tied into the musical metaphor of the piece that created a sense of completeness. Four, it acted as a spur to my own memories.