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When I was going to college at UW-Superior some years ago there where several times for me to be at a party or chilling out in someone’s dorm room and have them break out their writings. I’d have a few drinks in me and not to seem rude I’d read over what they had as they looked at me intently while I read through their work. Their face would be in my peripheral vision as I focused on the words and sorted them out in my head. There was always a feeling of anxiety as the words slipped by, one by one, and would eventually end. Once the words were gone I’d look up and then they’d say it, “what do you think?” It always seemed strange to be let into their world and then be expected to have an informed opinion on it within seconds after reading. This time around I was the one who decided to read and give my thoughts. I will admit that “Remnants of the Disappeared” hit a little harder than I was expecting, but I’ll still give it a shot to explain.
Amy Lynn Waugh has been living in the Twin Ports for around three years. I met her through a friend early on and it soon became apparent that she was melding with the local arts and music community that we have in this area. Whether it be an art opening, a local concert or some sort of environmental gathering, she would often be in attendance if not participating in some way. In a sense I would say that I knew Amy before reading her recently released memoirs, but after reading this, I really question what knowing someone even is.
Upon reading this work I thought of the scene in Blade Runner where Rick Deckard is interviewing Rachael and after the interview Deckard suspects that Racael is a replicant but isn’t totally sure. Rachael’s creater, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, explains that he has implanted memories as an “emotional cushion” for the unexperienced replicants and insinuates that having memories is what indeed makes us human.
Everyone with a functioning mind has life experiences that are stored up in snippets of memories held in our heads and this work by Waugh expresses the weight that those flashes of moments and situations can have on a person whether it be for better or worse. From small mundane details of a family vacation to relationships and love that revealed itself to be nothing but pain and loneliness, Waugh directs the scenes from her memory for the reader in a way that it shifts from innocent child to jaded adult all within a paragraph or even a sentence. While this is not the happiest read you’d ever hope for, it is real, human and a vivid recollection of moments in her life.
The question of knowing people, even if they are close, is raised by Waugh herself. Under the chapter “How to Become Ash?” she notes, “Memory is notoriously unreliable and exists in fragments. So I have to seek out those who still remember my family and pull out the fragments like bits of shattered glass, piecing them together into a mosaic that will become my history, my background, a place to move forward from.”
The book pulls from Waugh’s experiences throughout her life in a number of locations throughout the United States from the mid-west to the west coast. In each place there is always a feeling that she is trying to find herself and make sense of things. There are connections with family and friends although it seems she feels separate from them and most people. Another key component to these memoirs is the observation of nature in solitude, “I must have looked so sullen, so lonely, wandering along the waterline, stopping occasionally to examine a shell or small crab. In reality, though, I was listening. I was trying to tune into a frequency I had never heard but knew, instinctively, was there.”
Subjects of history, death, our mortal bodies in the flesh, pain and persevering arise often throughout this fascinating and quick read. It’s pretty dark but Waugh doesn’t make it seem like she’s trying to over sensationalize that aspect. It is dark because that’s what it is. She boldly brings out her experiences and memories of the past and illustrates them beautifully even though at times there is anything but beauty in certain moments.
Waugh is a teacher of writing at UMD and has also worked in the past as a forensic anthropologist, which she touches on in the book. Her memoir can be found at Jefferson People’s House located at 12 South 15th Ave. East in Duluth or on amazon.com.