During the summer of 1990, I attended the New York State Summer Writer’s Institute at Skidmore College. Out of that amazing experience came many amazing memories — and one false, but very much amazing mis-memory.
A few months after the Summer Writer’s Institute, I was talking with a friend and something he said prompted me to respond with, “I saw a play in which …” and went on for a minute or more describing the play I thought I had seen. When I was done, I stopped and thought about what I had said, because something didn’t seem right.
You see, I really hadn’t seen the play I had described. What I had done was to attend a reading of a passage from Susan Sontag’s play “Alice In Bed,” about Alice James, the sister of Henry and William James. Susan Sontag herself read it one night in a large college auditorium. My memory, however, was not of her standing at the podium, but an image of what she described.
The irony here is that Alice was bedridden and never traveled. Alice’s only way of “seeing” the world was by reading books. Susan’s play about Alice was about the power of words and writing to transport us to other times and places and to give us virtual experiences. My mis-memory was evidence of just that very power.