A couple of years ago, when I started studying Zen philosophy, Raf was hired to illustrate a book. The book is a memoir called Leaving Parma. As he was brainstorming ideas for these illustrations he came up with this one: “Words create past experience.” He came up with this within the context of the memoir as “Creative Nonfiction.” The idea came to him when he read the prologue to the book. In that section Angie Sarich explains that when she had her family read the book they remembered things very differently and it made her question the past and what it was. So using this idea he decided to illustrate the book with words from the book. He used words to recreate images described in the story. The above illustration is an example of one of these final images.
I thought this was a brilliant idea and if you ever get a chance to get your hands on this book take a peek at Raf’s illustrations. They are really unique.
When he was bouncing this idea off of me I was studying Zen and was kind of, in a roundabout way, thinking about the idea of past and what it is. And then it hit me. hard. The past does not exist. We may think it does but it doesn’t. We are constantly rewriting it, whether it be in our minds, or on paper, or on a blog. We remember things about specific events that didn’t quite happen the way another person might remember it. So if I recall something one way and another person who experienced the same event recalls it another way, which way is the true way? See what I mean? The past is merely an imagining of what we think happened. And our recall of fact is tenuous at best.
That’s really all I have to say about that. I thought about it recently because the idea came up in my zazen group this past week. It was one of those rare, mind-blowing “aha” experiences that don’t happen very often.