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Memory and Imagination Within Human Experience

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Memory and Imagination within Human Experience

Tony Earley delves into his own memories in his book, Somehow Form a Family. In the introduction, he instructs the reader on the purpose of narrative form, defines a personal essay, and reveals the true nature of creative nonfiction. In the ten essays that follow, he provides sketches of the events and people who shaped his life. Earley focuses on a different bit of common ground in each story, giving his readers everything they need to know within a relatively short span of pages.

The uses of discernable facts, such as actual places, names, past events and past conversations, add elements of authenticity to Earley's writings. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the name Bill Ledbetter, to the numerous shows he watched throughout his adolescence, Earley presents these facts to the reader in order to tether the woven script to a tangible source. He repeats these facts over and over within each story, reflecting again and again on personal memories. Memory and imagination, Earley states, "seem to me the same human property, known by different names." Earley makes this important point as he reflects on the individual's ability to perceive an event uniquely due to imagination.

Miracles are not uncommon within Earley's vivid memories. The imagination prevalent within his work reflects his own willingness to accept the supernatural into his reality. Earley relishes in his memories, now infused with the essence of his own imagination:

The first time I attended the Episcopal Church in my hometown with a girlfriend, I was shocked by the complexity of the melodies the organist played, by the sheer, tuneful competence of the singing. Until then I don't think I knew it was possible to worship God in cadences and keys actually indicated in a hymnal.

In the years since I left, Rock springs has added air-conditioning and a sound system and a fellowship hall, but has changed little in one important way: the congregation still sings out of green, dog-eared copies of the 1940 Broadman Hymnal. Though I heard the songs in the Broadman sung well only once a year, on Homecoming, the third Sunday in May, when the church overflowed with visitors and our musical shortcoming were hidden inside a joyful noise, they have always been the songs I love best. I would be hard-pressed to recall even a single sentence from the hundreds of sermons I heard growing up at Rock Springs, but I can sing from memory at least one verse from each of the hymns we sang from the Broadman. (114)

His consistent use of facts, such as the upgrades given to the church in Rock Springs and the Broadman Hymnal, allows his deeply personal essay to relate to his readers. Earley attempts to connect his experience with that of the readers through these factual references. As the readers are able to relate to the factual memories presented here, the imaginative, even supernatural memories in Earley's writing are accepted as well.

Though the facts are presented to the reader as lucid, concrete reality, Earley makes no discinction between the factual memory and the imagined memory. He presents miracles as smoothly as he transitions between events and characters:

One revival night when I was eight years old, the words and music of "Just As I Am" mixed in the darkness of my sinner's heart with the strange preacher's sermon, and flamed suddenly into Jesus Christ's great love. I clutched the pew in front of me, torn between the front of the church, where our pastor waited to receive those of us called by Jesus, and staying put because I was afraid. I didn't know that my struggle was apparent until the couple standing beside me stepped back so that I could reach the aisle. I wandered to the front of the church, through music in which God lived and spoke, conscious of how small I was, before God and in the eyes of the people that I had known forever. Our pastor leaned over, and I whispered into his ear that I wanted Jesus Christ to be my savior. (116)

His experience, though based in reality, creates imaginative connections between sensory and supernatural experience. The audience connects with Earley, an eight year old child, as he



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