Review: Thanks For The Memories

Those who live long enough reach a point where all regrets and anxieties simply vanish. No one on their 100th birthday recites a century’s worth of petty gibes. Perhaps it’s the distraction of arthritis, or the comfort of knowing there are no surviving witnesses to our most embarrassing incidents.

Cherie Dimaline, Governor General’s Award-winning author, is only in her 40s and not there yet. Dimaline vividly recalls all her regrets and anxieties, like the time she got drunk on Jägermeister.

“Remember there was that party you went to in your early twenties, when they were giving out free Jägermeister and you were still broke enough to think you needed to drink the hell out of that Jägermeister because, well, it was free, and then you got so drunk you started an argument with that group of strangers who said you were an idiot?” writes Dimaline. “Oh, man, you really were an idiot. Wait, let me play that back in detail for you.”

An Anthology Of Monsters is the text of a lecture Dimaline gave to the Canadian Literature Centre’s annual Kreisel Lecture Series. It is warm and human. Remember the time you had that panic attack at age 7 and locked yourself in the bathroom before First Communion? Dimaline remembers.

“What if I pee my pants in front of everyone?” she writes. “What if I say the wrong words and the priest stops the whole thing to demand I find the right ones? What if I take the Eucharist and then throw up the Eucharist?”

“And then I went to the church to take my First Communion in front of two hundred people,” writes Dimaline. “And while I might have otherwise forgotten it, that day was sharply carved into my memory.”

Dimaline depicts anxiety and regret as a pushy house guest with a photographic memory.  “Anxiety, she remembers,” says Dimaline. “She remembers the weather and what I wore and the looks on people’s faces, even people I never saw again.”

Many recollections are funny and not at all hurtful: “Hey girl, remember in 2012 when you were at the airport in Montréal and the Air Canada employee at the desk said, ‘Have a great flight’ and you said, ‘You too’?”

Other recollections bring a stab of pain: “I have the horrifying talent of still feeling embarrassed about something I said or did twenty years ago. Do I remember how I felt when I was on the front page of the New York Times arts section? No. But I remember, word for word, a mean tweet directed at me from a man who never met me but decided to question everything about me as if I was not a real person.”

Dimaline finds safety in family and words. An Anthology Of Monsters has advice for anyone with a keyboard or paper and pencil.

“The reason I always advise people to write things out, is that you get to organize yourself, figure out how you feel, and record the truth before your anxiety twists everything like a funhouse mirror,” writes Dimaline. “Think about how much better you feel when you take all the dangling threads of deadlines and errands and put them into a list. Then you know what you have to do and for who and for when.”

By Holly Doan

An Anthology Of Monsters: How Story Saves Us From Our Anxiety, by Cherie Dimaline; University of Alberta Press; 56 pages; ISBN 9781-77212-6822; $14.99.

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