On Memory

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Memory

Memory Machine

Do we choose what to remember and what to forget? Are our minds like endless VHS tapes, recording everything? Are some memories more meaningful than others or do we make the meanings ourselves?

Memories are hard to pin down. If I really sat here and thought about them, I could conjure up all sorts of people, places, smells, images and feelings. I could get lost in past worlds of my life as well as the worlds of others. But most days, I don’t. Most days, I’m so caught up in what is happening now or too caught up in what could potentially be happening soon.

I’ve always thought it would be amazing to have a back room in my house that was filled with tapes of every day of my life. Even if for a day I could watch certain moments, I would be content. But to have such an all inclusive collection would take over my waking minutes. I would get too caught up in the past and not live my life; I would merely become a watcher of it.

The Danger of Memory

Getting nostalgic is dangerous. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”

One can forget what the present means or why one feels a certain way toward others and past events. In our minds we tend to omit the negative. Why would we ever want to remember anything but positive experiences? Getting nostalgic can feel good, but there is something inherently frightening about looking to the past in order to feel good now.

In a large way, only the present matters. The past is gone. Every moment ceases to exist while a new moment simultaneously creates itself. But really there are no beginnings or endings. All of these moments get strung together to create what seems like a definitive timeline with a discernible start and finish but the truth of the matter is that all those moments happen at once. All of time is really only one moment; we break it up as to be able to conceptualize it, to comprehend how enormous that one moment is.

It’s All Happening

Why is it that memories and imagined futures feel the same but only the first is real because that one happened? Memories must be tied in with the same brain functions that fuel imagination, for what is memory if not life re-imagined? I didn’t mean for “On Memory” to be so philosophically tinged, but there may be no way around it.

There is nothing but questions when it comes to memory. Isn’t it possible for memories to be wrong, for events and people to be remembered incorrectly? It is strange that memory can be so unreliable, but it is the same question with an unreliable narrator in fiction. What makes memory unreliable is that individual lives are filtered through individual minds, so what one person remembers from reality could be totally different from what another remembers.

History Remembered

I’m assuming this is a major problem when it comes to writing history books. I thought about this while sitting in the bank today. There were televisions playing the same messages over and over again toting the bank’s reliability for over 120 years. After watching the message cycle through a few times, it hit me that the people who created the bank in 1889 are no longer around, are long since dead. Can anyone besides these televisions actually vouch for the bank’s reputation? If none of the people are around from the time when the bank was started, how do I even know the bank was created then?

There are records in the form of writings and books and movies and pictures, (the last two references being a very recent phenomenon). I don’t know about you, but when I write in a journal, I feel like a completely different person is talking. I believe this voice does a great job of covering what I am all about, but it also falls short of who I actually am.

The only true form of memory is the one that exists inside of human heads. Again, I find it strange that there is no one around who actually remembers past maybe one hundred years ago. Much of history could be a fabrication or simply different than how we envision it when we read about it and yet we will never know.

A certain amount of knowledge is passed down from generation to generation but who decides which of that information is valid and which of it gets forgotten? Who decides that we should even live by any of it? With so much happening every day of our lives, it’s no wonder we don’t remember some things. Somewhere inside, we decide what to take with us and what to leave behind.

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