May Memories

Posted by rebecca.mcswain on May 27, 2015 at 4:05 PM



MAY 1971


May 27, 1971

“Dear Madam: Will you please mark X to vote for the following resolution? Resolved: Build a 100,000 seat auditorium with a 100,000 marked on the one hundred thousandth seat at the place where humanity breaks so that everyone is included in Congress and nobody excluded. Please used the inclosed return stamped envelope and ballot A for such purpose.

“Sincerely yours,

J. L. K****”

Letter, with typed ballot, dated 5/25/71, received by Ladies Circle.

[Ladies Circle was at that time published by Volitant Publishing, where I was working as an editorial assistant, and my job included opening the mail.]

May 28, 1971

Dinner with Richard in Chinatown – some conversation in his square, tiny fifth-floor walkup on Elizabeth. (The toilet, on a mound of plaster in a raised bathroom, is really a throne – commands a view of the apartment.) He is reluctant to share his pipe, yet wants me to sleep with him. Shows me the fabulous Puck Building on Broadway and Houston.

Mama arrives at 10:00 PM.

May 29, 1971

Mother here.

Disagreements, feelings of guilt and hurt.

May 30, 1971

Mother here –

Visit to the Museum of Natural history. I weigh 1,000 pounds.

We argue about many things, watch TV.

May 31, 1971

Mother to East Side Terminal at 3:30. As she got on the bus she hardly kissed me or said goodbye – was about to cry, I think. Muggy damp day. The apartment doesn’t seem to belong to me, when I come back at 5:15.


So there is the past, unedited:  a letter from a madman (not a "Mad Man") to a woman's magazine that otherwise featured things like interviews with Shirley Temple; a relationship with a relatively sane (although the toilet arrangement suggests a voyeuristic or exhibitionist tendency) and selfish impoverished man; and my fraught relationship with my mother.  A perfect encapsulation of what the past - and remembering the past - is like:  absurdity, education, sex, family.  Reading this weekend (in the New York Times Book Review) about memoir-writing, where I find this:  "A memoir is a shape given to the chaos of life."  Is it fair to impose a shape on a life?  Isn't the chaos the truth?  But as soon as it is written down (as by a graphomaniac such as myself), it is no longer chaos. 


One great benefit of getting old is the gaining of perspective.  When one has a diary of 55 years' standing to draw on, depicting the actual shape given to chaos at the time it occurred, new perspectives are always manifesting themselves.  I never understood my mother until I'd married and had a child of my own, and reading my diaries, I can see that very clearly.  I'm extremely grateful we both lived long enough for this shift in perspective to occur, changing our relationship.  (And I wish she'd kept a diary, because I suspect that after her divorce, when she was "going out," meeting men, she might have had a different understanding of me and my struggles along those lines when I was single.)


As for Mr. K. and his ballot, well, I hope he eventually got the right medication and also gained a new perspective on the world. 


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Reply Deb Suta
7:56 PM on May 27, 2015 
I so admire one who has kept a diary for 55 years! Major self-discipline. Would that I had such...the lack of it is why I'm not a writer! Love ya!
Reply Rebecca McSwain
11:01 PM on May 27, 2015 
Wish I could take credit for discipline - it was more like a compulsion.
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