Memory Triggers

It nags at me, not every day, but frequently enough to make me wonder what it is that causes me to dwell on it. I know what triggers it.  It’s reading about or hearing someone talk about a memory of a time long ago, the type of memory I should share.  But I don’t. I don’t have the memories of high school or college everyone else seems to have.  I don’t have crisp recollections of grade school.  Even my more recent memories, memories of living and working in Chicago as an adult, are not as clear and unclouded as I think they should be. Sometimes, my memories seem to be the kinds created by hearing stories about the past, not having lived it.

This condition is not new.  One of the few clear memories of my college days is of sitting with a friend—a guy who had been a year behind me in high school and whose brother I knew then, but who I only met in college—in a restaurant called Hansel & Gretel, drinking dark beer and snacking on pretzels. We were talking about classes we had taken in high school two or three years earlier and I found myself surprised at not recalling much about them.  I had taken the classes, and had performed reasonably well in them, but I had only the vaguest recollections about them.  The same vagueness plagues my memories, or lack thereof, of much of my time in Houston and, later, in Chicago, though those memories admittedly are not as muddy as the earlier ones. I recall little about day-to-day life in those times; my memories are of specific events or experiences, not of life in general.

The more I think about the difference between those almost opaque recollections and the ones that are fresh and clear, the more I come to an obvious realization: memories of unique or especially pleasant (or painful) circumstances or experiences are the clear ones. The daily drudgery of slogging through the porridge, as I like to say, have drifted into the ether, buried under mountains of time and disinterest.  High school was boring and meaningless to me; much of my time in college (with some notable exceptions) was the same.  Even later, when I began enjoying life more, large swaths of time are almost hidden beneath layers of gauze, suggesting the more mundane aspects of my life have passed into the waste-bin of memory.

When I write about such stuff, I sort through the issues in my mind.  It’s as if my fingers on the keyboard serve as a means of sorting through issues that are too complex for my brain to handle.  My fingers on the keyboard massage my mental muscles, allowing me to think.

This topic, the muddiness of memory, is not something that lends itself to conversation over a beer, but perhaps it should.  It would be interesting to have conversations on such matters, urging others to try to reach into the recesses of their minds, in the hopes of determining whether my experiences are unique or whether they are simply a mundane and seldom-discussed element common to all who experience the human condition.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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