Last night I read something I’d been hotly anticipating, Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, published last year and recipient of numerous prestigious awards. I read it from cover to cover without stopping, beginning around 11 PM and ending at 5:18 the next morning. I have only done this once before, staying up all night reading a book in one sitting. (The unholy time when I read the entirety of Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun while waiting at the post office in Buenos Aires doesn’t count.)
This first time was the night I left my apartment in Paris. I was 21 and had shared it with my girlfriend for the summer, a tiny white triangular studio facing the afternoon sun through a tall narrow window with a sill on which we often sat in our nocturnal love haze, sometimes naked escaping the night heat, ecstatic and unashamed at facing the occasional dinner parties across the way. Many will recall their own experiences with this vortex of love, temporarily a perfect and completely self-contained world. This was mine, pure idyll.
I had one night in Paris after she returned Stateside. She had left me a copy of John Irving’s The World According to Garp with the suggestion that I might like it. I did. I devoured it that night, turning the last page at first light with almost exactly enough time to snap a photo of the exterior of the apartment building, leave the key on the table, and hurry to the airport to return home.
Just Kids, like all great writing, sets me ablaze with stories of my own, with the mad, dead-on assurance that they are worth telling and will have meaning, real significance. But the loving detail and cool, focused clarity of hindsight in Smith’s memoir tell me something else that I hadn’t detected before–that my stories will be just as important to me at some future date as they will be for anyone else. They are not deep, dark pools of nostalgia to wade into. They are live memories, little links that make things fit when I consider my life. They are necessary, the stories. Not just by saying it, Smith leaves the impression that she really wanted, needed to tell her story. I also want to tell mine, to conjure the emotions that she connects between us, between her and me. There is a continuum that she identifies from the first moments of her arrival in New York, not just of the fabled city but a sacred one of moments and feelings that reach out and explode with connections. From her writing, I am left with–charged by–the idea that I am on this continuum too. For this reason my details too must be recorded.
Of course, Smith is a tremendously gifted writer, and almost every page of this book is vibrating with the possibility of events and emotions. But it gives me the impression that for me, too, something is just around the corner, and I treasured the feeling this morning just as I did on that crepuscular walk out from my apartment in Paris, barely conscious, fully alive.