The Magic and Necessity of Forgetting
As readers of this website, but particularly this blog (the most queasily personal element of this queasily personal enterprise) are no doubt well aware, my mind is a haunted place. My demons have demons. A lot of these ghosts originated in my childhood. I’m one of those surprisingly numerous folks blessed and cursed to have childhoods and adolescences flamboyantly and humorously terrible enough to inspire multiple memoirs about my battles with mental illness. I was able to alchemize my pain into some sweet-ass major publisher paychecks but that money is long gone.
I published my first self-indulgent book-length song of self, 2009’s The Big Rewind, a little under a decade ago. I haven’t re-read it since its release because, Christ, even my narcissism and self-absorption know limits. But I’ve toyed with the idea of re-reading all of my books, potentially as a Patreon exclusive, for a while.
If, or perhaps when, I re-read The Big Rewind, I suspect a lot of it will feel terribly familiar. When you work on draft after draft after draft of a book, reading and re-reading and revising chapters and sentences over and over again until the passages start to lose their meaning and become weirdly abstract, those words have a way of tattooing themselves indelibly on your cerebellum.
But there’s a lot in all of my books that would surprise me. That’s both a scary and beautiful thing. When your brain is a spooky old haunted house on a hill in Transylvania, populated by the entire crew from “The Monster Mash”, as mine is—and I mean that literally, not metaphorically—you learn to savor and appreciate the magic and necessity of selective forgetting.
Oh sure, forgetting can be a bad thing, but when your unhappy memories outnumber your happy ones forgetting begins to seem like a blessing. I am perpetually thankful that my brain can only store a finite amount of pain and memory (the two are inextricably intertwined) and is constantly purging traumas on a daily, if not hourly basis.
I barely remember a lot of things that made me absolutely miserable in my younger days, and when I do remember them, the pain tends to be a limp, fuzzy echo of the despair I felt at the time. Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds, but it does dull the pain, particularly coupled with the miracle of forgetting.
To cite an example, about three months after The Big Rewind came out, it got an insanely negative, vitriolic, mean-spirited review in The Washington Post that, due to an unfortunate agreement between Amazon and The Washington Post was posted on the Amazon page for the book, so anyone interested in buying my book from the largest online retailer in the world would read about me being a “Snarkitect” who created and ran The A.V Club as a means of expressing my hatred of pop culture.
It was incredibly frustrating. It’d be one thing if this were an obnoxious review in a college newspaper, but The Washington Post matters. I respect the hell out of The Washington Post. So it was surreal and awful that one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, the paper that brought down Nixon, ran the snottiest, most juvenile and ugly review not just of The Big Rewind but of any book I’ve ever written, and hoo boy, I’ve written some stinkers! Just kidding. Though they drove me crazy when I was writing them, and then promoting them, I’m super proud of every one of my literary babies.
With the benefit of hindsight, the occasional nasty review doesn’t matter anywhere as much as the fact that I got to live out my dreams and publish a bunch of books with some of the top publishers in the industry. My relationship with The Washington Post is a lot different now. The unhappy memories of that dreadful review were replaced by fond memories of hanging out at the Washington Post press lounge at the 2016 Republican National Convention with my friend Dave Weigel. Besides, how can I not love a paper that makes Trump so angry?
To cite another example, before Grantland launched I snagged a sweet-ass three thousand dollar gig covering the Kid Rock Chillin’ the Most cruise for them. I was super-proud of what I came up with so you can imagine how distraught I was when I got an email saying that Grantland would be passing on the piece.
I was mortified. It felt like a brutal personal rejection and I desperately needed the three thousand dollars, exposure and big-time acceptance that had been suddenly and dramatically replaced by zero dollars, no exposure and big-time rejection. The editor said I could call him to talk about it and I experienced one of the most painful phone calls of my life, as the editor nervously bragged about pieces Grantland would be running from people like Dave Eggers and John Cusack and I had something of a panic attack. My heart was beating so loud and so fast I thought I was going to leap out of my chest.
The editor only lasted a few months more at Grantland’s own existence was short-lived, so while the pain of that rejection, and the way it was handled, was sharp and intense, it passed and now I look back at the whole situation dispassionately. The rejection still stings a little but it does not feel personal.
I hope that’s true of the pain that came with being laid off from The Dissolve and The A.V. Club cancelling My World of Flops, both of which remain vivid and sharp. I would love to be able to look back at my time with both websites with the same unambiguous pride I feel about my literary career, even if my relationship with Scribner ended with them rejecting what would have my fourth book. I’ve discovered that nothing helps you forget an old pain like a new love, or new enthusiasm, and true to its name, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place has helped replace some of the pain of the past with happiness with today and excitement for the future.
And if things go awry with my third and hopefully final online home as well, maybe the old brain-bone will do me a favor and purge those painful memories alongside all the others.
Join a nice community, get access to patron-only content and Jesus, people just aren’t pledging that much, and haven’t been for months and it’d mean a lot to me if you could pledge, literally, a dollar a month over at https://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace