Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Frailities of Memory

In the foreword to his Collected Stories Wallace Stegnor says of autobiography:

'I am not to be trusted with it. I hate the restrictiveness of facts. I can't control my impulse to rearrange, suppress, add, heighten, invent and improve. Accuracy means less to me than suggestiveness; my memory is as much an inventor as a recorder'.

And in his foreword to 'Trying to Save Piggy Sneed', an autobiography, John Irving writes:

'This is a memoir, but please understand that (to any writer with a good imagination) all memoirs are false. A fiction writer's memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than the one we can remember. The correct detail is rarely, exactly, what happened; the most truthful detail is what could have happened, or what should have. Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes.'

A few years ago I put together a small book of childhood memories as a genealogical effort. I was inspired by the excitement and satisfaction I had experienced whenever I found a tidbit about the life of one of the ancestors, and the yearning I felt to know more of the times they lived in, of their personalities, their passions, and the circumstances of their lives.

I tried very hard to write things as I remembered them; not to embellish or rearrange or invent. However, even then I was painfully aware that the integrity of our memories does not always bear up with those who have shared the same childhood experiences, and I have long been puzzled that memories of the same childhood experiences can be recalled positively by one person and unhappily by another.

Recent neurological research into the process by which the brain stores both working (short term) and long term memories are fascinating, but I have yet to read anything about the interpretation of the memory in respect to the way we receive it and the effect it has upon our lives.

Suzanne Warren, while a student at Bryn Mawr, expands upon the contents of a book 'The Society of Mind' written by Marvin Minsky, a philosopher and scientist and a leading expert on artificial intelligence. In this book he presents his conception of human intellectual structure and function, and defines memory as a holistic neural activity, involving many different areas and processes of the brain in an intricately choreographed dance. .

I have taken part in a U.K. online experiment to test Short Term Memory, and discovered the secrets of remembering small lists, and whether, when I pause on the landing, I can remember if I am going upstairs or downstairs.

But it is the secrets of Long Term memory that intrigue me.

I am sure that my childhood engendered unhappy memories, but it is the happy memories that are prevalent in my recall. Why is this so? I have a feeling that it is all caught up in the controversy regarding spiritualism/materialism and the argument concerning the existence of a Soul.

A great number of years ago I attended a class on creative writing, and was criticized for the lack of a counterpoint of laughter and tears, and of 'hurt' flowing through the pages of a project on childhood memories. Probably a very valid criticism when considering the quality and appeal of the writing, but I can remember at the time questioning my memory and searching for the hurt and tears which would have made my writing more acceptable.

I continue to be mystified by the relative qualities of our long term memory, and uncomfortable when I consider that the memories that are dear and familiar to me are not necessarily the plain unvarnished truth! When a tune, or a fragrance helps me to re-experience a moment from the past I would like to think that the happiness it engenders has some integrity!

Here is a picture from the past that makes me smile, an affectionate memory of a day of cousins that brings me pleasure.

Were we really that sunny, or were there small slights and hurts that happened that if I had been of a different disposition would darken the memory for me???

Nice that there is time to contemplate these questions.

And to discover more about Marvin Minsky. After a cursory perusal of his writing and his thoughts I am considering that Marvin Minsky has many theories to de-mystify the human experience. Is this good??? Well, probably quite splendid to a humanist.....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The rising sun caught the clouds,

and the quail came up from the meadow to breakfast alfresco in the mild morning air

a heavy mist rolled in from the south, but the sun worked his magic

and turned the fog to whipped cream clouds in a beautiful blue bowl

And all before ten o'clock this morning......


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How go the Resolutions, Horatio!!!

The Resolve : to live a focused life...
a simpler life.
A cleaner life (that refers to my careless housekeeping)
and a more mindful life.. (translated: don't forget to take bags to the grocery store, - you will never be able to recycle all those plastic bags into doormats!)

Well, yesterday I took five cloth bags to the grocery store and felt immensely 'green' as I handed them across the counter. Virtuous, and pleased with myself.

When I came home and unloaded them, still feeling pure and Polly Anne-ish, I left them in an accessible place for next time shopping.

One swallow does not a summer make, and I can see I am going to have to nurture this habit before I can feel truly righteous.

For some time I have been examining the kitchen cupboards, the linen closet, the cobwebs on the ceiling, - all with my Company Eyes.

This morning, when Husband went singing (as a matter of fact I didn't hear him leave, I was so enthusiastically hauling things off the pantry shelves...) I planned to be doubly efficient. I would do the Pantry, which has been all higgeldy piggeldy for too many moons, and Roomba, the Christmas vacuum, would do the carpets....

I went to tell Ruumba the plans! She was plugged into her Port, but sadly, someone (Husband says it was the Cat) had knocked the electrical cord partly out of the wall, and instead of her green light shining at me all was quiet in Roomba Land. I plugged her in, and the orange charging light came on.

Nonplussed (well, fairly nonplussed) I returned to the Pantry while Roomba charged her batteries.

What amazing things I found tucked into corners and behind the front six inches which is the most active part of the Pantry shelves.... I threw things away, wiped down containers, found two jars of Mincemeat in addition to the one I bought this year. Every once in a while I would go and check on Roomba, but she seemed to be enjoying herself with the recharger, and was taking her time about getting ready for work.

Half way through I heard # 3 Son plowing the snow around the house. Once more into the breach, dear boy. Yesterday's snow piled another few inches on the road and it seems a never ending job to keep it clear.

I ran from window to window, and finally caught his eye to wave our thanks.

Eventually Roomba reluctantly turned on her green light and declared herself ready to work. I returned to the pantry while she scooted around and around the floor. The Dog found a safe spot out of her way. The Cat was terribly curious at first, and I thought she might jump on for a ride, but in a while she turned away in disdain and got up on the top of the couch to watch the quail eating under the bird-feeders.

I was through in the Pantry before Roomba had barely got started, so I had a shower, and when I came out I could hear her gentle hum, but couldn't see her, - until she came whizzing out from under the buffet.....

After a while she stopped, and when I went to investigate a pleasant voice politely asked me to check and clean Roomba's brushes, - which I did and soon she was back doing her cheerful merry-go-round act.

Time for Husband to come home from his morning outing, - I put the soup on to heat, - Roomba went back to her Port to rest, - every once in a while when I went past the Pantry I opened the door and glowed at the neat and tidy shelves.

A good morning's work, and that took care, momentarily, of the housekeeping Resolve.

I still have the Simpler life and the more Focused life to deal with, but I think that getting ancient eventually ordains that we shall not run around wildly doing myriad things that tire us out and distract us from the Mindfulness of life.

Had a nice nap this afternoon, and then Caspar and I went for a Simply lovely walk...
while the pleasures of a clean and tidy Pantry kept popping into my mind....

Perhaps I should just leave the door open so that I can be inspired about the Linen Closet, too.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I have heard it said that when Old Man Winter exhausted himself yesterday with his huffing and puffing and icy demeanor, picking up the drifts of snow and sliding them into great huge piles, and roaring around in wild exuberance while people snuggled deeper into scarves and pulled toques down around their ears, - I have heard it said that when he finally crept home in the wee small hours his Wife, the gentle breeze of summer, scolded him heartily and told him again about the virtues of making friends and influencing people with his many charms and virtues.

Therefore - today Old Man Winter was just a little shamefaced, and went around making up to all those he insulted yesterday. He charmed us all, - the sun shone, the birds sang, the clouds were white and soft. It got a little warmer and everybody's heart was stirred a little at what a sweetheart the Old Man can be...

...the weatherman says we will wake up to snow tomorrow........