by Ross Crawford
Yesterday, I began Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, highlighted by io9 as essential reading for any aspiring writer. (While this post is not intended as a glowing endorsement of this book, it may well read as such). On Writing begins with fuzzy remembrance by King of his early childhood; he admits, quite refreshingly, that his memories are vague at best. It is rather reassuring we do not all have photographic cognition of our youth.
One of the first anecdotes he recounts is that of his two-year old self carrying a cement breeze-block through his garage whilst imagining the adulation of a crowd towards he, the self-proclaimed strongest boy in the world:
“Their wondering faces told the story: never had they seen such an incredibly strong kid. ‘And he’s only two! someone muttered in disbelief.” (p. 4-5)
His fantasy is quickly crushed–along with his toes–when a wasp stings his ear, causing him to drop the block on his feet. This faintly amusing, painful sounding anecdote caused me to remember–with startling clarity–a similar moment from my own childhood, albeit without the footsore denouement.
When I was around five or six, my parents took my friend and I on a walking trip just north of Stirling. (In my mind’s eye, the landscape looks identical to Amon Hen, the final set-piece battle from the The Fellowship of the Ring, but it almost certainly does not look like that!). My friend was called Graeme, I think. So far, so fuzzy.
The only detail I can clearly remember from this trip is my dad challenging us to lift up some nearby logs above our heads, mimicking the contestants on The World’s Strongest Man. Perhaps my dad was encouraging youthful competition but more likely, he had conceived of a way to keep us entertained and/or stop our moaning. Of our own volition, we decided to carry these logs–still held high above our heads–back to the car. I’m not entirely sure why we did this, apart from fruitlessly trying to prove that we, two five-year-olds, were no longer weak wee boys but brawny grown-ups!
When we reached the car, we threw the logs down with relief and my parents congratulated us on our ‘achievement’. They were probably pleased with our (mercifully) quiet determination on the walk back. Ridiculous as it may sound, I distinctly remember feeling, just as King did, like the strongest boy in the world.
Be assured, this outing did not presage any future prospects for me as a weightlifter. The most apt physical description of my build even now would be ‘scrawny’. (To illustrate this, a colleague at work–an army captain and PhD student–was describing a moment of vigilante justice from his youth in which he tackled a shoplifter. Asking what I would do in such a situation, he prefaced the question with, ‘imagine your were physically intimidating’).
Instead, this episode–if you can even call it that–was simply one of those slightly strange moments from childhood that we gradually forget, at least until we come across something similar or reminiscent of the experience. Instantly, our synapses fire in a flash of warmth and we recall a long-forgotten memory. It’s an oddly pleasant feeling, similar but not identical to nostalgia. It feels almost as if our memories are syncing to a new, yet familiar experience.
Literature can create new worlds, new characters and new lands of possibilities, but of equal value is its ability to ignite dormant memories thought lost to the unyielding forward-march of time.