I was originally going to kick this off by comparing memories to things that are packed away in unmarked storage boxes. But then I realized that this isn’t completely accurate. Also, I’m not up for changing the title, so we’re going with a different analogy.
You’re making a beef stew in a crock pot. You add the tomato paste, carrots, potatoes, celery, onion, garlic, corn, cabbage, and meat. But then you notice that something doesn’t smell quite right. It could be the old cabbage, or the meat might be slightly beyond the window of safe use.
So you decide to “un-make” the beef stew, and proceed to remove each piece of everything so they can be washed and put away for later use elsewhere. Every piece of corn, every carrot, etc.
This would be ridiculous, and it wouldn’t take anyone long to realize that this approach will not work out.
The ONLY viable solution, it seems, is to throw ALL of it away.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF MEMORIES
Now that your appetite has been ruined, let’s look at the different types of memories that we all have. Some of them spoil with age, while others get better.
The Bad Memory: Remember that time in the Fall of 1983, at college orientation, when things went horribly wrong and it resulted in everyone avoiding you for the day? Remember how it inspired over half a dozen people to either change dorms or schools?
This memory has no real-world consequences beyond that day, and yet that memory keeps replaying. It stays alive. The only thing to keep it at bay is proper medication. It most definitely is a memory that should not exist or persist, as it is not useful at all.
The Warm General Memories: These are memories that invoke specific feelings that are more positive. Because of their positive nature, it can be more difficult to invoke them. They aren’t really specific, and are more geared toward a general sense of safety or well-being.
It’s sitting in the bean bag chair in the basement, watching television while having a snack. No worries about bills, appointments, work, or anything else. Total freedom.
The Good Memory Gone Bad: It’s the good memory you have of someone from high school or college. But then you make the mistake of trying to talk with them on Facebook, and you end up learning the hard way that they’ve become a horrific example of a human being.
This effectively destroys all of those good memories.
The Bad Memory That Got Better: This is the after school fight outside the gate that made people stop treating you like an easy target.
I was terrified of that fight, but it was one of the best things to ever happen.
The Good Memory That Got Better: These memories involve the people who were decent enough back then, but who later became an actual friend. It’s a seemingly rare thing, but I think that I have a few.
There is one, for sure.
The Closed Chapter Memories: These are memories of family, friends, or loved ones who are no longer living. These memories can become frustrating if questions arise, because you cannot ask them.
The Music-Linked Memories: I wrote about this recently in my entry about music on physical media. On August 1, 1981, I took my brother and sister to my dad’s place to catch the launch of MTV [we didn’t have cable where we lived].
Whenever I hear the MTV music theme, or “Video Killed the Radio Star,” I can see and smell that little apartment, which was a converted cave. Yea, a freaking CAVE!
The Painful Memories: These are events, such as loved ones passing away, that become a bit dull with time, but never go away.
THE PRESENT CHANGES THE PAST
Some of you may be wondering how the present can change the past.
Let’s interrupt a three-word statement: I love…
What does that MEAN? If your third word is “carrots,” then that’s one thing. But if the third word is “you,” then the “I love” got changed a bit, didn’t it?
I royally fucked up a fond memory I had of the past, which involved a girlfriend from 1982. I had some great memories from that summer. Going to see Poltergeist in the theaters. Playing Stairway to Heaven on guitar. Jumping into the photo booth at the mall and getting those four pictures. I can still see those photos, even though I haven’t seen them since the mid-80s.
Those memories end with her father trying to kill me with a wrench, because he had no idea that I existed until he found out the hard way when I showed up to pick up his daughter.
All the same, these used to be good memories. And I could have taken those good memories to the grave with me.
It’s like that game show, where you could go home with the $5,000, OR you could give that up in exchange for what’s behind The Secret Door!
I went for the secret door. It didn’t end well.
As a result, that once-warm memory has been destroyed. This memory was once very similar to the one I wrote about in the “music on physical media” entry from two days ago. But now, it joins a special place with memories of my ex-wife and college orientation.
THE STEW BEGINS TO SPOIL
Of course, with my stew analogy, like all foods, it will either be consumed or it will go bad and need to be thrown out.
The above anecdote about the past isn’t a one-off, either. I’ve ruined the past many times, simply by looking up the person with whom I had shared this past.
What happens is I contact them, we start to talk about the old days, and I find out the hard way that they didn’t really have the same appreciation that I had. In some cases, I find that while I viewed them as a friend, they viewed me as an annoyance or in some other negative light.
This observation got me wondering how I think about the past, as well as how I think about those people from the past.
FROZEN IN SPACE AND TIME
Since I keep referencing the blog entry from two days ago, I’ll link it HERE. It’s a warm story and a highly fond memory. It’s the kind of memory that could have easily been killed like the others, because I had talked with her briefly.
Fortunately for me, she has a solid head on her shoulders, so it did not cause any damage.
Since that memory survived the present, I decided to look at it to figure out how I see these memories.
As I gave sincere attention to my pondering of this time, I realized that, so far as I am concerned, she is still staying in that home, house sitting, waiting for me to return.
Yes, I know people change. Logically, I know that she left that house once the owners returned, and she returned home. I know she left home, got married, and moved to another state. I know all of these things, and yet she lives in my mind in that house.
When I watched and listened to this just now, I was back in that converted cave, watching this on my dad’s television with my brother and sister. My sister passed in late June 2017.
I can smell the old remnants of a scent of carpet glue, along with that cave smell. It basically smells like rocks. I remember it being the coolest place on earth for a while.
When I have this memory, I envision my dad still alive, still there, and ready for me to stop by after school. Logically, I know my dad died in early 2003. But in my mind, he’s still in that converted cave, just as that girl is still in that house sitting situation.
IMPACT ON DISCOURSE
I’ve established that when I think of something, I am transported back to that time, as are the people who were involved.
When I catch up to people from my past, decades later, my mind transforms to a place where the past is very fresh, almost as if it’s scheduled to happen later this day. While I’m in that mindset, the other person’s mind is not. They might be thinking about something they’ve got to do today, or some recent concerns of some kind.
Maybe they have a vague memory. Maybe they’ve forgotten it completely.
Or maybe they DO remember, but they remember it through their perspective, which might not be so kind to me as mine is to them.
TRAUMA AND PTSD
This type of memory happens for me, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. I can only imagine that people who go through horrible situations feel this way when they recall their trauma. Their minds take them back to the scene, and they can see, smell, hear, and feel everything.
Memories become very real when they manifest in this way. I suspect that a horrific memory with these types of recalls are representative of PTSD.
I do have some memories like that, and I won’t go deeply into any of them. I can still smell the Miller High Life on my carjacker’s breath, as he shakily pointed a 9mm pistol at my face.
CAN MEMORIES BE SELECTIVELY DELETED?
This is my ultimate question. My suspicion is that everyone else has this issue, where they have memories that they want to keep forever, and memories that are either bad or rotted that they want to discard.
I do know that having new experiences and making new memories does nothing to remove these bad ones. There seems to be infinite storage space for these types of memories.
It’s a question that I’d like to explore further.
CAN GOOD MEMORIES BE TEMPERED?
An important question to answer for myself involves whether or not my perception is over-inflated. Is my recollection of them accurate, or are certain attributes and feelings being inflated?
What I wonder is whether or not certain memories can be taken down from their pedestal and put into a more accurate context.
CAN BAD MEMORIES GET IN THE WAY?
Yes, most definitely.
One of my uncles was a major influence with regard to my musical pursuits. In the summer of 1985, we went on a bicycle ride through the countryside.
It was a rare opportunity, as he had moved away when I was still really young. This was my chance to finally have an adult conversation with the man who put music on my radar in the first place.
We went on this bike ride, and I felt that it could be a significant and monumental bonding moment. I was partially right, and not in a good way.
I ended up telling him about some experiences I had in college, that were similar to experiences he had. I’ll leave it at that.
Throughout the ride, he smiled as we talked, and I felt like we had adequately bonded.
But I was wrong. Apparently, after he had HIS experiences, he developed a sense of regret. He bought into propaganda that informed him that his experience was really bad.
So what he thought was a good idea would be to walk into the house, into the kitchen were EVERYONE was sitting, and just blurt out what I told him to everyone while I’m standing right there.
As everyone stared at me, I looked at him and said, “Wow, I never had you pegged as a fucking dick. Go fuck yourself.” [For the record, grandma agreed with my assessment.]
I haven’t talked to him since, he hasn’t reached out to me, and we will never be talking again. His musicianship was solid, but his personality was very broken and disrespectful.
He only taught me the F major scale on a six-string, by writing it down. A few people reading this have taught me more about music than him.
This bad memory most definitely gets in the way of any attempts I might have considered making for reconnection. I saw his page on Facebook, and I could have easily taken a chance and sent him a line.
But I did no such thing. For all I knew, he could be just as crappy as his older brother or his sister. I don’t talk to them, either, and it’s because of my heavy-duty bad memories that prevent me from attempting to contact them.
Are bad memories getting in the way?
My memory may very well be protecting me, because none of these people had my best interests at heart. It’s difficult when so many people in your own family are monsters.
In my original idea of equating memories to boxes in storage, I imagined myself in a giant room that was so big that the walls cannot be seen. There, I would sit on a low stepping stool, reaching down to a box on the ground and removing the lid.
From there, I would pick out each and every dusty piece and inspect it. Things I’d want to keep go into a new plastic container, and the rest gets pitched in the trash.
Every so often, a box would be rotted, and it would be obvious to me that the entire thing needs to get chucked. And every so often, I’ll have the urge to just torch the place and walk away from it all.
IS THERE VALUE IN MAINTAINING THESE MEMORIES?
There is a day that I remember that is NOT a specific date or time. Without reliving it in too much detail, I was very young sitting in the bathroom, looking out the window watching my brother crawl around the back yard. We had moved into this house to accommodate my sister.
My brother was crawling under a big steel half-pipe that had ridges. It was like he was crawling under a tunnel. It was the early afternoon, so the shadows were in specific places. My mother was hanging clothes on the line to dry. It was a very sunny day.
Then I looked away, into the mirror at myself, and said, “I am going to remember this moment forever.” So far, I have.
There is absolutely NO point to this memory, at all. There is no significance beyond my very youthful promise to remember it.
This memory ranks up there with something I had called “The Penny Game.”
Every year, my paternal grandparents would have a Christmas party at their trailer park, in the community room, connected to the laundry room.
There was a HUGE stone fireplace, and the stones stuck out in a way that created ledges. Some of these ledges were higher than I could see.
The Penny Game was something I played alone. Nobody else knew about it, because I didn’t want anyone sabotaging the game.
What I’d do is bring a penny to the Christmas party and place it up on a ledge of one of the stones, up above where I could see. That’s the first half of the game.
The next year, I would bring another penny to hide. Before hiding it, I would have to FIND the penny that I’d hid the previous year. Note that the Christmas party was the ONLY time I’d ever spend in that community center.
Points were added or deducted if I could recall where I left the penny on the first try. Extra points if I could remember the date and mint on the penny, and extra points if I could remember if it was placed heads or tails up.
The challenge was not only the passage of time, but I would also be taller than I was the year before. So it wasn’t a matter of just reaching up and seeing how high I could reach.
I did this every year, until they stopped having these Christmas parties in 1978.
Assuming that the fireplace is still there [the community center is there], one would find a 1968D penny, heads up, on the 4th stone from the left, 12 stones above the beginning of the top of the fireplace hole.
Why do I remember this? Habit, probably. I may very well still be playing the game in my head. But I have no practical reason for remembering this.
Maybe this memory keeps my childhood alive in my brain?
IN THE END
As the title suggests, I initially wanted to approach the issue of bad and ruined memories like they’re in filing boxes in storage, needing to be sorted and dealt with individually. In doing this, the idea would be to sort out the good and bad, with the good sent to safe keeping, while the bad get sent to the shredding facility.
But memories are simply not this clean and easy. Some stay hot for a long time, while others cool. This idea lead me toward the stew analogy. The cynic would say that, over time, the stew will go back, and then the entire thing will have to be dumped into the garbage disposal, to be seen no more.
As I approach my late 50s, I am starting to realize that they ALL might start fading way, thanks to aging and how the human brain works. One day I will forget that moment that I told myself I’d be remembering forever. One day I’ll forget about that 1968D penny on a stone in the fireplace in the community center from 1978.
Someday I’ll forget about the people who did me wrong and caused me harm. Any good that comes from that will be countered with forgetting those who made a difference in my life.
I might forget how to play music, or how to write. I might even forget my own name, where I’m from, and how old I am at that time.
While I don’t mind losing the bad memories, I do have some difficult feelings about losing the good memories. This may be why I write some of them down.
The most difficult thing for me to accept is the fact that I may not only forget about those good memories, but I might not even be able to know that I forgot them in the first place.
If you don’t know that it’s missing, then does it even matter?
I know that my memories mean nothing to the world, in the grand scheme of things. They have meaning only to me. Even when they involve good times or good memories with others, it will still only mean something to me.
People I think about from time to time may not have thought about me at all in almost half a century. And you know that if I ever found one of their phone numbers, I’d be calling them and talking with them as if it had been ten minutes since we last saw each other.
But I won’t be finding any phone numbers, because I won’t be looking. I think that it’s time for me to keep those from my past who wish to be involved, because they’re already here, and ditch the rest.
Over time, the bad memories will become irrelevant. This is fine.
Still, I have a hard time imagining my most cherished of memories leaving me.
I thought that I was ready to end here, but I have one final anecdote to tell.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2010, I went to Mel Gibson’s church for a St. Patrick’s Day mega-bash. It wasn’t anything religious. They had a phenomenal buffet, and Mel Gibson’s nephew, Owen, taught me the fine art of dancing with four women at the same time.
I was going through the buffet line with Catherine, when she noticed that there was no utensil available to dish out the green beans. As luck would have it, Mel Gibson was right there, saw the problem, ran and got a big spoon himself, and apologized for it.
Just seconds after that, I looked over and saw someone I noticed. It was a woman named Marie. Marie and I worked together for 5.5 years for a healthcare consulting firm, as Admin staff.
Marie was a bit older than me. She was a really fun lady who never acted her age, which might be why we got along so well. She always dressed in a fun way to reflect her goofy and outgoing personalith.
I went over to talk to Marie. I could tell right away that she was NOT her bubbly self. When I asked her if she remembered me, she told me that she did not, and she apologized for that, because she’d had a series of strokes that destroyed her memory.
I told her about how she was back then, and some of the good times we had. With a straight face, she told me that she had no memory of any of it, but that I seemed like a nice guy, so she would take my word for it that things were that way.
I left Marie’s table, and went to sit with Catherine and Owen. While they were speaking with voices that showed how they were enjoying the party, I couldn’t help but feel sad about Marie. I successfully kept that sadness to myself. Nobody called me out on it.
We will never know what we will remember and what we will forget until it happens. Shortly after that, it will all go away when we die. None of my memories will exist, beyond what I’ve written.
Ultimately, my memories are as much of an illusion as I am. That thing I call “me” is just a series of neural network connections that created a “me” based on my ill and limited perception of the reflect sent back to me by others who also have an ill and limited perception of this being.
The brain in my skull gets informed of who and what I am, based on what happens inside other skulls. And then they proceed to fuck with each other, maybe out of boredom or stupidity.
Life is an illusion caused by death. Why should any other aspect of this be any different?
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