Friday, March 25, 2011

Memini: The Underground Stream

Memini. The Latin word for "I remember.”  Me-mi-nee.  A lovely word.  It means to remember, to recollect, to be mindful, not to have forgotten, to bear in mind.  I particularly like that phrase, "not to have forgotten."  

The “m” sound is calming and dreamily repeats throughout the word, quietly murmuring and burbling like an underground stream.  Not a morose, dolorous word. Not a whingeing word.  Certain memories repeat often, often in my case the bad, but the beautiful memini word cancels that out. Remember the R.E.M. song, "Try Not to Breathe"?  

I will try not to worry you
I have seen things that you will never see
Leave it to memory me. I shudder to breathe

That is what I will try to do:  not to worry you.

Brooding memories are not the focus of my parents’ generation.  They have the gift of self-censorship.  You ask them what parts of their life were best.  They say, “All of it was good.”  You sit there wondering if they remember the screaming, the divorces, the illnesses, and when you read their memoirs, self-published in spirals at Kinko’s, which they give to the whole family, you are not surprised to see the past has been white-washed. Sometimes a private segment accidentally is published with the rest and they're flustered.  Oh, I didn’t mean to give you that. 

The use of memini is auspicious. My love of this word points me along the right path.   It precludes my writing a misery memoir. Not that that couldn’t be done. There are the usual things.  But it depends on your outlook.  Are you going to write about what interests you or what bores you?  Does anybody want to know about that...yes, they do.  But there's no reason to reveal the wretchedness.  I understand my parents' generation there.  I fall asleep as soon as I think about the unhappiness.  I'm more interested in what turned out well, whether you thought it would at the time or not.

Very schoolmarmy at one of my jobs.
Typical of me to use the Latin.  If you know me, if you've read my blog, you may not be surprised, nor think me stupid, for having embarked originally on A LATIN CAREER PATH.  CAREER PATH.  WHAT A JOKE. My friends were working in cafeterias, offices, and stores while I was in graduate school. I would show up at the library smoking room (a room open all night, off the entry of the library) at five in the morning and look up hundreds of words and translate.  Then I'd go to classes and take notes and translate, and then late in the day I'd teach (braless, as we all were, but at least in button-down shirts, as we were briefly too popular in leotards).  All the Latin is long ago, but it had an impact on me; it shaped the way my life would turn out.   Memini.  But I remember the men who were furious when I passed the Latin exam and got my master's.  Only two of us passed.  Professors were clasping my hands.  A friend who had dropped out of the program coldly said, "Oh, you're a master" and never spoke to me again.  It was the way things were.  Men were not happy for intelligent women.  

You may have heard me say at dinner parties that I teach Latin, and if I seem to exaggerate, it’s because if I don’t want people wondering. It is not acceptable not to work.  They hate it if you don't work.   The other option is to say I'm a housewife.  Men and women look incredulous.  Women actively blanch.

I am a housewife, and I teach as little as possible.  I teach a few classes a year for adults.  If you aren’t a happy teacher, and if you find it doesn't nurture you to give to others all day, it gets very boring.  At home you’re napping after work, and then you get up and read Buddenbrooks desperately because if you don’t, your whole life is preparing to teach and grading papers and being a nice lady with a group who gets to know very well, since you teach Latin I, II, III, and IV.  It was enjoyable sometimes but exhausting, and none of my friends taught Latin in high schools or colleges for longer than five years. One friend swatted unruly students with a magazine; another thought the students at a midwestern college were terrible; I was bored out of my mind.   I do have an adorable picture of me teaching in the ‘80s, with one of my students making rabbit ears behind my head.  It was a nice group.  

Antonia in I, Claudius
We drifted into other jobs that were more fulfilling and less tiring.  I reached a point when I decided to do something else.  I found my vocation later. I still teach a little adult education Latin in addition to other activities, because it's good to spread the word about this most powerful influence on English. 

And so perhaps it was Latin that shaped the Antonia in me, mixed with other Roman heroines, and a dash of Livia.  Certainly Livia may not have been as bad as everyone says.  You know those Romans...

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