Tag Archives: memory

The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

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Filed under art, Culture, family, flying, food, history, life, nature, people, Writing

Blank Minds

I have nothing to say today. Really. My mind is blank or filled with things that aren’t for public consumption. But then that makes me think of minds and our ephemeral memories. We are, in essence, made up of memory, which temporally places us between past and future.

I wrote about memory once when I was writing a column for fearsmag.com, a now defunct online magazine caught in the apocalypse of the dotcom fall. Memory is what defines us. Beyond the personality imprint of birth, we begin to remember things, who our parents are, what we like to eat, what feels good, how to walk and talk.

But memory is an odd beast. We could all watch an event; a soccer game, a murder, a birth, a celebration, and everyone would remember it differently. One person might be more attracted to pattern over color, or auditory over visual. How important an event is will also color how well or long we remember it. It is the biggest problems with witnesses for criminal cases. People remember different things and remember them differently because the mind can start to extrapolate and problem solve.

So when I remember December and holidays, I don’t remember each year’s specific holiday nor the ones of the childhood. I remember a particularly good or bad one but couldn’t tell you which year it was. I remember the overall feeling I would get from Christmas and it will be broken into atmosphere, the tree and gifts, and the family and friends and whether overall, people got along or the times were horrid. I’ll remember the taste of turkey but not necessarily a particular turkey. In essence, my mind files all Christmases in the same folder with post-it notes on the truly significant ones.

Therefore memory isn’t accurate while at the same time it is. It isn’t accurate as to chronology, linear sequences or even all details. (I remember you saying this but in fact you remember differently.) It is accurate in context to the person and what is significant. Though, haven’t we all tried to remember something important or where did I put the keys and we cannot remember. Memory is faulty. Datafiles become corrupted. I find too that time affects memory. The sheer distance of hours to an event will have the details fade to only the most important ones.

If we could truly be immortal, how much would we remember? Would we only remember about a hundred years worth of stuff and get vaguer and vaguer ideas of our own histories? I remember being in Byzantium. Well I think I do. I remember the age, or did I just dream that? Barring Alzheimer’s or other conditions that impair memory it might just be that we won’t remember much that isn’t in the most recent two centuries.

Without memory we would have to relearn everything every day and society would remain rudimentary at best. Yet even animals have memory and some of it is ancestral memory, or what we call instincts. It varies by species but in fact no creature could exist long without memory, beyond a simple cell. And without memory I wouldn’t be writing on this blog.

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Dare to Remember

This was originally published when I wrote for Fearsmag.com. It had to do with our fears and memory.

For everyone, memory is an important aspect of our personalities as well as our culture. Many people are proud of their lineage, and how far back they can trace their ancestors. History is what makes the world. What happened in the past? Did we learn from our mistakes, did we repeat them? Without memory we would be simpler creatures and our world, our inventions and our differences would not be so great.

Science fiction author Gene Wolfe wrote a book called Soldier of Arete, which is about a man whose memory is only a day long. Unless he writes every thought and event down he does not remember from one day to the next what happened in his past, what he accomplished, how he failed or whom he liked and loved.

Amnesiacs must blunder about feeling a certain panic, not knowing how they lost their memories or what they liked or who they were. For some it might be a freeing experience from who they were, but then, they wouldn’t remember so how would they know? For most it would be the cutting loose of identity that would be frightening, suddenly in a world that you know you are part of, but not knowing in what way to act nor what you thought.

November marks the month of remembrance. In Canada it’s called Remembrance Day, in the U.S. Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day). This day, Nov. 11th was chosen originally in the U.S. by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of World War I. To commemorate means to bring to memory, to remember. Marked forever in our calendars is the day the war ended, when we are to remember all those who lives were lost so that we could keep our freedom.

Just think, without memory we would have no ceremonies—no birthdays for who could remember when they’re born, no Valentine’s Day for who could remember who they loved, no Easter or Christmas for who would remember the significance of a religion started two thousand years ago, no Hallowe’en, no Presidents’ Day, no Mother’s Day, no Father’s Day. Without memory, would God or religion, life or death matter in the same way? No one would remember your accomplishments so fewer would strive for fame. Movies might still exist, if someone could remember how to make them from day to day, but after you saw a film, you would forget it and the stars would be ciphers once again.

As much as our personalities make up who we are by framing our world in a particular perspective and in how we react to any given situation, our memories also make up who we are. Memory is described as the mental processes that modify our behavior in light of previous experiences. We are the sum of our parts. What we remember and how we remember it makes us who we are today. I remember having a small, metal fridge as a child. I loved that fridge; there was nothing special about it but one year it was replaced with a big, shiny new fridge and many little plastic vegetables. Yet, I wanted that old fridge and to this day remember it. Did my parents know how significant the first fridge was? I doubt it. They probably don’t even remember the fridge at all. I, myself, can’t remember why I liked the first fridge so much but I will never forget it. Memory’s a tricky thing.

So here we are, in November and we should remember. Remember what was lost and what was gained. Remember what war does so that it won’t be repeated. Well, we see how well that’s going and how long that memory sticks. For many people not old enough to have relatives in any war it’s hard to think about what we should remember, unless we’re taught it in school. But what exactly, should we remember? The good times? The bad times? And what should we forget? Past slights, embarrassments and failures?

In the course of selecting the memories that are important, we also order them as to the most significant. My fridge memory is not too significant today. The painful memory of being teased at school left a deeper wound and made my personality shift. I used to be shy but learned you had to be tough and louder and laugh first if you didn’t want to get hurt. That’s what I remember.

People who have been abused often have blocked their memories. That horrendous event is far too painful or frightening to bring up and their psyche cannot cope with it. It’s still in there, buried behind some neuro-synaptic door and only the right key can trigger the lock. The person with the buried memory may still have a very screwed up life because of what happened but the psychological detectives have to uncover the secret before they can find a cure. And of course, there’s that risk of implanted false memories. Through hypnosis, psychotherapy and brainwashing, the mind can be reprogrammed to believe something did happen the way it was suggested. Our memories after all are only electrical zaps stored in our brains.

I know someone who suffers from multiple personalities. She’s got quite a few, from a boisterous tart to a sinister old man. The severe abuse she suffered through her young life fragmented her memory and her brain made up different personalities to deal with various situations. What does she remember and what do her other five personalities remember? Is any particular version more truthful or are they all? Like our sight, our memories can play tricks on us. Do we question, “Did it really happen the way I remember?” Some memories fade so that we really can’t quite remember what we did on a particular day, what someone said, or where we were. Yet, other memories are as sharp as broken glass, waiting to stab us with the poignancy of a mortifying or an ecstatic moment.

November might also be a time for many to reflect on what we’ve accomplished through the year. Often the year seems to have flown by. Oh migod I never did finish that novel. I forgot to call so and so for the third month running. Why do we remember and why do we forget? The workings of the mind are still a mystery for all the studies that have been done. Although there are many memories I would rather forget (and damn that mind of mine, it’s not letting me) I’m still grateful I have a choice of memories and that I haven’t forgot what’s important in my life. Now, if I could just remember where I put my keys….

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Filed under Culture, history, life, memories, Writing

Roadside Memorials

Recently CBC had their panel of people talking about roadside memorials and what was the decent length of time to keep one up. Just to be clear, there are the spots of fatal traffic accidents, where people then put up pictures, flowers and other mementos of the people killed. Sometimes there are more permanent fixtures that go up, as well as planted flowers, trees or bushes.

What is the proper length of time? Should the crosses, plastic flowers and faded photos be removed at a specific time? When I come home I always drive by one that had four people’s pictures on one side and at least three on the other side. It told me it had been two cars involved and two groups of people. One of the memorials seems to have disappeared while the other is still there. It’s been over a year.

If anything, these memorials serve as a reminder to drivers to slow down, be cautions, don’t cut people off. When stopped at the light, a person can look over and see something of the person whose life was lost. Eventually, when the loved ones move on, the memorial will disappear. Some will last longer than others. I can see how city road crews might have problems with these memorials. Should they take them down? Isn’t this infringing on someone’s grieving process? Yet, if the memorials are in the way of cutting weeds and maintaining roadsides, then how can the workers do their jobs?

The CBC panel suggested that people should remove them within a year. I have envisioned a world where every telephone pole and light standard was taken over as a memorial (eliminating the postering of them now) and painted in indvidual ways. Perhaps the city could make money by renting/selling a light standard as a memorial site for someone. This is somewhat like a plaque on a park bench.

I personally have no problem driving by a memorial and seeing it for a s long as the grievers see fit to maintain it. It was one of the aspects of Ireland that showed me best the culture and families: the gravesides were carefully maintained in family outings. A memorial, even if it isn’t in a cemetery, serves the same purpose. Let people grieve and let them remember. And let the people who didn’t know them see something of this life gone by, know the person was more than just a statistic and maybe watch their own driving a little more.

Our culture often lacks the acknowledgement of death and grief, expectinng everyone to act normal a week after a loved one’s death. Often people have to suppress their feelings, which can cause health problems along the way. A roadside memorial may just be one way for people to deal with their grief in a culture where we try to keep death invisible.

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Filed under cars, Culture, driving, life, memories, spirituality