Thursday, September 20, 2012

...pieces of memory

Sunrise by Edouard Brouchac

Bless Ed's heart...all his talent, all his fancy cameras, and I picked an iPhone shot.
Well, it picked me. Mea culpa, Ed. Mea extremis culpa.

What matters in life is not what happens to you
but what you remember and how you remember it.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This quote from the Wiki: "Memory is the processes by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved." The subject has long fascinated poets and scientists, songwriters, novelists, and theologians. From one's memories, personal myth is born. As we age, distinct memories blur and leave. At sixty-one, I identify with Steven Wright's words: "Right now I'm having amnesia and deja vu at the same time. I think I've forgotten this before."  I recently encountered a book, The Art of Memory, which discusses principles and techniques used to assist in memory impressions and improve recall.

The Latin phrase, ars memortiva, traces memory/recall techniques that date back to the first millenium BC. Complex graphics, contemplation, the study of architecture, books, sculpture and painting were utilized by practioners to develop memory skills and organization. Meet Mnenomics: "any learning technique that aids information retention...[and] aim to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better and...might aid the transfer of informtion to long-term memory."

I've added some new words to my vocabulary and am humbled by the sophisticated methods developed in the Iron Age. But I already knew something of association and memory. A scent, a song, or a picture can trigger a feeling or a full-blown return to an earlier time. Or, as happened this morning, something deeper...a glimpse of personal formation and definition.

I met Edouard Brouchac when we both worked at The Birmingham News. Now retired, he is a talented photographer with a great wit. On particularly vexing afternoons at work, he'd pull out his "Folder of Shame" filled with unfortunate typos and photos with unintended hilarious overtones. Once my hysterical laughter ceased, I always managed to find my missing equanimity.

Today, his photo led me to a different place. In a glance, I was ten, in my grandmother's bedroom. White curtains wafted in the southern breeze as I stared through the screen at the piney woods beyond. A soft cotton pillow trimmed with my grandmother's tatting cushioned my back against the wooden slats of the rocker. The Clue in the Diary, my Nancy Drew mystery, rested on a small chest next to a bottle of rosewater and glycerin, Granny's daily beauty routine. In one hand I held a glass of ice-cold milk; in the other, warm homemade peanut butter cookies.

This was no casual recall but a moment of merger...the past and present so tightly enmeshed, I am unable to perceive where one stopped and the other started. Because here is where I was shaped, where my truth rests. Here is where love lived and took root in me. Where I began to choose the seminal memories. The intervening years have challenged me to view them honestly and claim the lessons.

Wiki words: "It is astounding the way memory is formed and how it can be manipulated just by emotion. If pain, joy, excitement, or any other strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during the even make a stronger connection with each other. The strength and longevity of memories is directly related to the amount of emotion felt during the event of their creation."

My words: "Thank you, Henrietta Day Kirkley, my sweet grandmother, for the magic. You are on every breeze, in kitchen aromas and old songs. You are wrapped around my neurons, in every cell. I love you. I love because of you."

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy
Note to Self
Faith, Weeds and Dancing Shoes
There's a Hole in the Clouds Somewhere

Carruthers, Mary (19900. The Book of Memory (first ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-38282-3. (limited preview on Google Books)

1 comment:

GretchenJoanna said...

So much about this post moves me, I could write a long blog post in response - if I had time! I'm still waiting here with my daughter for Baby to come...

But I at least have to say that my grandmother's love has had the same effect on me and my memories - Thank God for all those little things they have done for us, that turn out to be momentous.

I love the quotes about memory, too, and have stashed them away for more enjoyment and sharing.

Thank you, Dear Celeste.