I do not remember who taught me the word, ‘fungible.’ I am as sure that I did not discover it in a book as I am of any memory, but I cannot recall the person who opened that window in my mind. I have a vague recollection of repeating the word aloud and being told its meaning. I believe the discovery must have been in high school because it appears in a manuscript of the time.
The importance of the word to me lay in the sudden self-awareness that others had wrestled with the amoebic edges of memory and found a word for a phenomenon I was already encountering. We often exchange actual and original purpose or intent with a better cause when we recall our actions. Price may have been the determining factor and money the motive for accepting the price, but it was, after all, the perfect gift, was it not?
I have in my mind an endless string of word associations. For example, ‘cannot’ immediately brings up a young Laurie Saunders and an intense dissection of the use of that word versus the two words ‘can not.’ Whatever the disagreement, I am sure Laurie was correct. Her sense of language was superb and I depended on her more than she knew to spot usage problems in our magazine, Galileo.
The staff was all-volunteer. We were attempting to publish a nationally distributed and competitive magazine in the genre field of science fiction, without a dime more in pocket than we could gather to pay the printer. Authors were paid out of incoming revenue from sales.
In the end, it was only our inability to pay the printer (due to other underestimated or uncalculated problems) that kept our last issue from appearing. Revenue dropped abruptly like turning off the water in a hose. Most of the fine authors in that last unpublished issue never saw payment to compensate them for all the angst of awaiting to see their words on the page. All of this is a common enough story with countless small publishers.
Another disagreement with the estimable Laurie centered on my happy use of prepositions at the end of sentences. She was much attached to the Latin rule, and I to the more common convenience. And yet another quarrel concerned the uses of ‘that’ and ‘which.’ Anyone reading my work now will quickly see the issue on display to this day.
My memories of those times when we throve (a fabulous word) on pizza and words are complicated by my own addiction to what I wanted versus what was. The drug that made it possible for us to do what we did in the hours after we had already done a days work to pay the rent and pizza bill, was a confluence of individual dreams brought to focus on a specific goal. Again a common enough story–given to baseball teams and revolutionaries. The cocaine of dreams will often shape otherwise mundane incident.
It is impossible for me to argue that what we did in those small offices was of any more importance than the pleasure of doing it. At the time I wanted to change the paradigm (another nice word.) Publishing as a whole was controlled by a very few companies and science fiction per se was in the hands of the same small group of once young visionaries who had re-established the field after World War Two. There seemed to be an opportunity there to inflict my own philosophies on the world.
I am now, as I was then, a devotee of storytelling. Much of what was published in the field of science fiction was more intent on the explication of some new scientific titbit in the context of a western in outer space or a political diatribe. I love political diatribe, you understand, but not before breakfast.
What was passing for ‘new’ in the 1970’s was the psychology based nihilism of the 1930’s brought forward with little attempt to rethink the proposition–mankind was evil and stupid. I personally did not know anyone who was evil and reading about stupid people never seemed like a good use of my time, so I rejected this school of science fiction out of hand.
I wanted to publish stories in Galileo about human beings facing imagined problems of the future that were entertaining as well as enlightening of the present. It’s what I thought storytelling was all about.
I will not speak for the purposes of Charles Ryan, Floyd Kemske, Tom Owen, or any of the others who joined me in the cause. Their dreams were each unique to themselves. As the erstwhile ‘publisher,’ I certainly managed to have my say more than anyone, but Charles Ryan, in his role as editor, easily had as much influence. The final product achieved each time a new issue appeared was a common effort.
I am just as certain, if each member of the staff were asked today what their purpose was, that each answer would be essentially different. Some of the same words might be employed but the heart of the answer would beat its own tune. And I am also positive that what each of us would say would be remarkably different than what we might have said at the time. That’s where fungibility comes in. Without a lie, we can individually interpret our actions faithfully to meet the value of that past in each of us.
The interest to me of this is this: the faithfully remembered past is not wrong simply because it presents an alternate gathering of attributes or characteristics–and most especially if it presents an exchange of color, or size or time of day. These last items are mundane ‘fact.’ Their importance is purely relative to the object. And this is the grammar of memory. It may be important that the tree was big, but likely unimportant that the tree was seventy-six and a half feet tall. A preposition may dangle at the end of a sentence, but it works if it gives the reader what for.
Memory is fungible because it must be. We must have the freedom to re-interpret the past to ourselves because at the moment of the original occurrence, it’s likely our minds were on other things–sex, food, money, or something even more important (?). What we do is often simply achieved by the momentum of our lives. We set our course and then eat lunch. Why we chose to accept one manuscript and not another, each of some arguable value, might have been a matter of indigestion. Whole empires have been lost for as little as that. Must we then judge ourselves for our dyspepsia? I think not.
Our lives are an accumulation. A stew. A gumbo. Hodgepodge. Gallimaufry. (Aren’t words great!) We are the cooks and it is not so presumptuous to say we are the ‘chefs’ of even such humble food as we might in the end serve.
Our efforts to direct our lives becomes with age, a task of editing. There is no time left to relive the details of our intentions, much less the minutia of our actual accomplishments.
It is now my convenient prejudice that the older we get, the better we remember.