Memories, sweet memories

I’ve been thinking about how, when looking back at old relationships and experiences, certain memories are set out in relief. I’m not sure that I know when they’re occurring in the original moment that they’ll be the ones riding shotgun with me years, even decades later. Probably not.

The strange thing is how you have no real say-so about which memories will last. Even if I tried to remember whole relationships or events, everything said and done, I know I couldn’t. And moreover, it’s my unconscious mind that largely decides which memories will be saved and mentally re-lived in the future. And which will be jettisoned.

I find this kind of selective memory rehashing to be a by-product of all sorts of relationships, from family to friend to romantic. I would prefer to be able to remember more details, better chronology, and perhaps more of what I said/did – my focus is usually weighted on the other party.

I’d like to know how I’m choosing what to remember, especially when the results seem so haphazard. You’d think you’d remember the important stuff – and sometimes that’s true – but other times it’s random or seemingly inconsequential tidbits that stick around. Of course, ALL the memories must be in there somewhere, if they could only be accessed.

I’m always curious about how other people’s memories function too; everyone seems to have their own shtick and there’s no changing or influencing it. Saying, “How can you remember THAT?!” or “You remembered that wrong” both get little response. Or conversely, what it means if I’m the one sharing a memory, especially one seared into my recollection, with someone who was also part of it, only to have them stare at me blankly, clearly not remembering.

I do see one thing my memories are influenced by, and that’s my own personal changes. I recast specific memories. Not changing or rewriting them, but perhaps seeing them as more ominous or less dramatically, as foreshadowing subsequent events. The connecting-the-dots is more apparent after the fact.

I use this knowledge now. I am much more aware that I am creating memories with my actions and involvements. What kind of memories do I want to have in the future? And I don’t mean this in a greeting card kind of way: “Let’s create beautiful memories (together)!” Rather, a conscious undertaking of acting in such a way as to forge memories that will be good and positive, if I have anything to do with it. So that whatever it is that rises to the surface in those awake-at-3AM moments down the road, will be okay.

People like to say it’s the things not done that create more regret than those done. I am not so certain, not in referencing my own life. What you don’t do, or refuse to do/start, seems equally important. I say this with a chunk of life in the rear view.

What I’m trying to get across, in part, is my cognizance of the importance of memories and my awareness of my hand in creating them. Since I really don’t know which ones will be “set out in relief” in the future, I want to try harder to influence the results. So that my unconscious mind will have no choice but to select from a decent array of options.

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18 thoughts on “Memories, sweet memories

  1. Jim Link

    I agree completely ,Colette ,that we create our memories – a great deal of the ‘truth” is our making!
    My extended family is masterful at this, and in retrospect I feel blindsided by my naivete in believing their family legends. But my naivete isn’t what I care to explore right now. (Or ever?)

    For example, I had a very cultured caring ,affable uncle who was the life of the party, whom I discovered after his death was something of a deadbeat n’er do well. He couldn’t keep a job (got fired constantly) , spent the real breadwinner’s money (the mousy but stalwart wife),didn’t raise his kids (mom did),etc. He shined in family legend ; she was anonymously pale. But she was the true heroine!

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Memory is odd and I’m always intrigued by what psychology has to say about it. I wonder, given your court room comment, what the current thinking is on police line-ups; if people can be trusted in their judgment/memory.

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      1. John Callaghan

        From what I’ve read about such things, in Canada anyway, one person identifying another person, is not enough on its own because it has been proven that memory is really subjective, and one persons account may not always reflect the reality of what happened. It becomes even worse when race is involved because it has also been proven that to a person of one race, say Korean, has difficulty in identifying, and distinguishing, the person of another race, say African American or white. I don’t think we do lineups at all in Canada.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          From quick reading, I get that lineups are still used here and there have been studies done to help make them more reliable. (For example, traditionally people were told to “take their time” in selecting the suspect, but I saw one study which showed that quicker decisions are more reliable.) Very interesting stuff. And pretty important to get right.

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          1. John Callaghan

            That is interesting. My problem might be that often I don’t really take the time to obsorb and remember a persons face. But, maybe if a crime were being committed, I’d have a better chance of fusing a face to my memory.

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            1. writerinsoul Post author

              I’m wondering if your unconscious mind might be absorbing more than you know? But you’d need a way to test that. And your point makes sense; heightened or dramatic experiences tend to be remembered more clearly, the way that people can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they received specific bad (or amazing) news. I bet if somebody started waving a gun around, I’d remember that…

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  2. vanbytheriver

    Memory…an enigma to me. I have blocked months, sometimes even years from my active memory; and it’s not about stress. Some stressful times can be recalled in great detail, others…only come up when triggered by related event or comment. It’s all in there, just not sure we have complete control over recollection?? Writing seems to open many doors.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Yes! Writing builds on itself, one thought/memory leads into another. I found something similar when I exchanged emails with someone I’d known long ago – the act of writing seemed to set my unconscious to working on old memories and I was surprised by what came back to me.

      I’m with you; I’m sure I don’t have complete control over recollection, but it seems important to feel like I have some.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        I had few friends growing up, so many secrets…it was easier to keep a distance. But I am too intense for my family at times. When I try to bring up memories, they shut me down. So, I have to “talk to myself” to get there. Sharing with others here has been of great benefit. Thanks for being a part of that. ☺ Van

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Families don’t like the member holding up the mirror, reflecting all the stuff back. And you’re right – blogs are great because there’s nobody there saying, “You shouldn’t talk about that.” I wonder if you’ve heard the saying about families whose motto is essentially: “There’s nothing wrong here and don’t you dare tell anybody.” I rather like that one!

          Thanks for your kind words, Van.

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  3. daveb42

    John von Neumann, a computer pioneer in the ’40s and ’50s, asserted that everything that happens to us is stored in our memory. If we have trouble recalling, it is not that the memory is gone, but rather that we are having trouble finding it. There is some evidence for this in the documentary “Alive Inside”, a winner at Sundance last year, I believe. The documentary deals with Alzheimer’s patients and show how they wake up when given music from their earlier years. It opens with a 90-something woman who can’t remember anything from her school days. Given music from her youth, she begins to recall and then goes on and on with stories from her young years. And goes from unresponsive to animated. It’s all there, you just have to find a way to get it back.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Yes, thanks for this. I touched on that just briefly, that I do also believe it’s all in there, if only it could be accessed (whether someone has dementia or not). I do WISH there was a simple, easy, more guaranteed way to get old memories back (maybe one day there will be a pill!). And I’m intrigued also by those rare individuals who can remember everything. I believe scent is also a strong memory holder.

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      1. daveb42

        You are right. Scent is clearly involved, as is muscle memory (e.g. playing a particular piece on the piano). von Neumann made an estimate of the memory capacity of a single human. His estimate was a capacity that is still much, much larger than all the computer memory in the world.

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  4. Cristina

    I wonder if I’d remember half of what I do if it weren’t for my journal that I’ve kept since the 4th grade. It’s amazing reading old entries from over the years about happenings I totally did not recall on my own. My grandmother also passed on her love of scrapbooking and photography to me and I’m so thankful for all my books full of little scraps of this and that to help preserve my memories of people/places/things I’ve met/experienced

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Cristina, me too! And some things, it turns out, I remembered differently than I originally wrote about them. I wonder, given what I know (think I know) about you, if you are like me and tend to judge yourself in the past via journal entries? On the other hand, I sometimes think, “oh, that’s smart!” of something I wrote.

      As I’ve gotten older, I’ve let go of many keepsakes. There was just too much and they didn’t all mean that much. I want to travel lighter & freer – and if I forget certain things, so be it.

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      1. Cristina

        oh my goodness yes, all I do is judge myself, lol. I know I shouldn’t because the more important thing is the obvious growth and maturity I’ve attained, but some (ok, a lot) of those “younger me” entries are positively cringeworthy.

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