The Failings of Memory

I began working at a new job two days ago. It is a temporary arrangement, just for the summer, but today is one of my days off. It began with a few snoozes of the alarm, though I still wanted to wake up early and be productive–to accomplish certain tasks I’d laid out for myself. Even days off should be treated as days of employment, if you’re working on things outside of whatever provides you with a paycheck. Wake up early. Get dressed. Keep a schedule. Eat lunch at a specified time and resume work at the end of that time. I had my itinerary mapped out and I’ve followed it so far.

The first ting was exercise. Hemingway advised that it is “necessary to get exercise, to be tired in the body” to write well. So I woke up, drank some water, got caffeinated and headed right to the gym. Hemingway also advises that it is “very good to make love with whom you loved.” I currently lead a loveless life, so I had to take a rain check.

I accomplished various tasks throughout the day, read a fair bit of Joan Didion’s The White Album (today is Wednesday, she is a perennial woman-crush. Few authors can pull off having their picture as cover art without seeming unforgivably self-indulgent–she is in this elite circle.) and finally ended up in the outdoor shower where I began to think of what to write about. I haven’t blogged in a few days, and felt impelled to come up with something I’d feel proud of.

There was–of course–The White Album on my mind, particularly the essay re the women’s movement. There was Kent Russell’s I Am Sorry To Think I Have Raised A Timid Son, which is one of the upper echelon of books in my library that I do not regret spending the extra money on for a hardcover. There is always Donald Trump. There is my budding obsession with “Mad Men,” which I have been binging on via Netflix for a few days now. But as I stood outside, scrubbing myself, bending in all sorts of unflattering ways to ensure that I would be thoroughly clean by the end of my shower, I found myself thinking of Leopold Bloom. I felt myself thinking of myself in a way that Bloom would think of himself–if that makes any sense. Being a fly on the wall in my own shower, an observer of me, James. Which led to Joyce, which led to Portrait, which led to the opening lines–one of the few bits of non-poetry literature that I’ve committed to memory:

“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”

Pretty easy to memorize given the lack of punctuation. This is Joyce recollecting his earliest memory. So as I let the water from the shower-head trickle through my unkempt hair, I wondered: what is my Joycean moo-cow?

There are flashes, little vignettes, of a time where I was in a dinosaur costume, something handed down by somebody else–I remember being elated. There is a memory of a neighbor of mine sledding down a hill on a snow-day head-on into a tree. There is a segment from a car ride–after church (so you know this goes way, way back)–with my family where I realized that I do not want to live forever, where I asked my parents why I’m supposed to want to live forever. The feeling of wrongness as the prospect of eternal life roused a roller-coaster drop sensation in my stomach. There is a memory of one of my earlier birthday parties where a friend shoved grapes up his nose. Green grapes–I remember there being a photo taken of this as well. I remember his name. I remember my father buying my first hockey stick at a hockey shop in Danvers, MA–a Hespeler because that’s what Gretzky used–and I remember ogling over the grey and black Bauer Vapor skates that Ray Bourque laced up. Their price tag to me–at the time–was beyond comprehension. And there is a memory of me playing tee-ball behind the elementary school, for the “Colorado Rockies,” getting tagged out at first and running back to the shade of the bench (there was no dugout). All of these are extremely vivid–personal. Some make sense to remember, others do not.

But as I ruminate, I realize that these memories are much crisper than some that are much more recent. I can see that Colorado Rockies hat in 1080p. I can remember how that jersey felt on my shoulders, how my hands smelled after the game.

But if you asked me about my first week of college I would either 1. not be able to recall much (not because of alcohol, mind you), or 2. I would probably just attempt to rehash some vague story out of a feeling of obligatory memory. It wasn’t even that long ago, it should be clear as day. Yet that is not the case here, so I try to drum things up. i.e. “Remember how you ate dinner with these people that first night?” No? But sure, yeah. I remember. And then I begin to question the memories of others. Do we all have these terribly lacking recollections of even the most recent events? If that’s the case, how can we rely on anybody to accurately relay anything? I know that I put a little filter on most of my memory. We all do. Some tend to remember the good, some the bad, some I don’t even know what. But we’re all selective, and we all are guilty of categorizing some of the more crucial details as omission-worthy.

I wonder what I think I know. What I think I’ve done. What I think has happened in my life. How much of it is factual and how much of it is contrived? And if it is contrived, how much by me and how much by others? What have I been told? It’s the type of thing that makes you lean back in your chair and say “fuck.”

It’s the type of thing that chips away at all of the certainty you’ve been able to accrue since you realized what solipsism was–since you began to question things.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. quintessentialeditor says:

    I had not heard this quote from Hemingway regarding being tired of body to write well. A very interesting quote, and a very introspective post.


  2. fatimah says:

    Ah, in my first novella I had termed thinking as a disease from how detrimental it was. Solipsism can ironically wrap itself around your entire existence if you let it, but certainty of faith gets me out of that dark hole. What gets you out of it?

    Liked by 1 person

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