Saturday, March 26, 2011

Memory Fail Safe

Memories fail. This is a fact of life. Having watched my father's memories erode almost completely over a fifteen year period, it is one of the most frightening rewards of getting older, which we all do. Day by day. Month by month. Year by shockingly short year.

A friend of about my age once said to me that it felt like his head was full: every time he learned something new, something else had to go. A new PIN? There goes his childhood zipcode. The names of a colleague's children? The middle name of your own brother. I don't know if memory works that way, but his theory supports what I've been seeing too.

But I refuse to go gently into that good night and in order to preserve these fading scraps of my happy life I have started a Memory Safe. Every time I have one of those senior moments where something I knew just the day or hour before is no longer at my command, I write it down and a little bit about it. Sometimes it takes me a whole day to recall the lost scrap. Sometimes -- since much of the faded glory is culturally rooted -- I look it up on the Internet. By doing this, and by writing a few lines about the thing, I hope to keep it safe. To keep it in the safe. So far it appears to be working pretty well and I would recommend this to any of you who also find yourselves caught in the spaces between the the things you know.

I'll be posting some of these safe deposits in this space and invite you to post some of your own in the comments. I'll get us started with this one.

Silent Snow, Secret Snow

Conrad Aiken. That’s the guy who wrote that. I read this story in high school and never got it out of my head. It's about a kid who wakes up either listening to, or imagining he is listening to, a snowstorm piling up outside his window. I think of it every time I see a gentle snow falling. Every time I hear a muffled step in fresh snow. Every time I wake up and the world seems too quiet. Or too impossible to navigate. It’s interesting why some things stick with you. Is it exceptional writing? Or is the memory primed by something in your life at the time you read it that makes it indelible? Either way it’s worth looking at the parts and pieces of a story or song or picture that haunts you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was in 9th grade (1975) a boy in my English class talked about one of our spelling words: desert. He said the way he remembers the difference in spelling this word and spelling dessert is that you'd only want to cross a desert once. For some strange reason, this has stayed in my memory. Of all the things to remember from my past, that's one of them. I don't remember the kid's name. I don't remember the teacher's name. But every time I see the word desert or dessert, I think about that day in 9th grade.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Tom: For your memorization pleasure.

12:49 PM  

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