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The Art of Memory


Hello readers,

I am fairly sure that all of our minds work  differently, which means more or less that we all live in diverse worlds of our own fabrication.  I once read someone’s blog in which people described in detail how they each perceive the world.  Some individuals are more sensitive to sound, others to words and language, others remember places and situations spatially.  For some, colors are primordial, while others never notice color at all.  We rarely stop to consider how different we are from one another.  It is nice to consider that each of us is a unique treasure, especially in the manner that we perceive our own reality.  If we were to take this factor into account more readily, relationships would be a different type of adventure. That is, if we stopped forcing our expectations onto others and just allowed ourselves to enjoy the interaction of a completely different creation with our selves.

As for memory: I have been reading a short and delightful book on the art of memoir writing called “Thinking About Memoir” by Abigail Thomas.  It is a short course on various approaches to memoir writing, introduced in a very fresh and personal manner.  As I read the book over a cup of tea, my own memories started waking up.  For example, she mentions remembering something very soft, and the sensation of touching my favorite childhood object – a silky baby blanket rolled up and tied with my mother’s bright red rayon headband rushed back to my heart and to my finger tips.  I called it my “Comfort”.  I loved that blanket.  In fact, I did not think of it as a blanket at all.  It was my friend, providing love, security, comfort, sensual satisfaction to my child being.  I still feel a tug at my heart strings when I think about my “Comfort”.  I remember last hiding it in the crib I slept in as a baby, which remained in the room I grew up in, piled high with unused blankets, stuffed animals, and toys.  I like to think of “Comfort” slumbering there, safe from the harm and viccissitudes of life.  If “Comfort” is intact somewhere, then my own safety, even as an adult, is somehow guaranteed. It is as if my childhood innocence, my child heart, have been preserved between the silky greyish folds of that magic fabric.

Memory is a tricky construction.  Sometimes I think we layer our memories like Photoshopped collages, rebuilding and reconstructing as time goes on.  In this manner, a memory is never part of the past but always in the process of renewal and reactualization.  I hold onto some memories that become icons in my mind: my very first memory, for example.  I accompanied my mother to New York City, very shortly after the birth of my little sister.  This voyage remains a mystery to me to this day.  My mother never liked to travel and was never close to her sister.  We never went to New York City together again.  Yet she and I took a Greyhound bus, brought a packed lunch of brioche bread with hard-boiled eggs and iceberg lettuce.  I remember leaving my father, baby sister and older brother behind, a faded color photograph in my mind.  I also remember the bus, a 1960’s bus, rounded, ribbed.  Being in crowds, only seeing legs, the fear of being crushed.  Then a fragment of my aunt’s studio apartment: a kitchen with a bar, stools with metal posts.  I don’t remember where we went during that trip, nor how long we stayed, or most importantly, why we went.  It remains a mystery.  I wonder what happened while my mother was giving birth to my sister that caused her to desire to leave her newborn with my father, who was never much of a caregiver…

Memories are at once powerful and fleeting.  The truth in the memory lies in the emotion that the memory carries for us and in us.  As Abigail Thomas so rightly comments in her book, it does not matter if the memory is accurate, so long as it is meaningful to us.  I am glad for photography, for I feel that I would remember nothing of my son’s childhood without pictures.  Each present moment seems to annul the past, as if it had never existed, yet there is always the bittersweet feeling that something precious has been lost.  As his voice deepens, I hear the higher pitched more innocent tones recorded on his cellphone voicemail, and I feel that pang.  Memory and technology interact in an interesting dance.  Forgetting is just as significant aspect of memory as is remembering, for the disappearance of the actual fact allows us to reconstruct and rebuild the memories in our minds and hearts, cementing the visible with the invisible.

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