Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanks for the Memory

Another of life's great conundrums is the one related to your own past experiences, of which you feel comfortably familiar, even to the point of prefacing some observations to friends with the meme, "I've probably told you this before..." The subtext is always memory.

You frequently feel so comfortable with your past that you have become deferential to those about you when discussing it, almost to the point of, "Yeah, I did that." or "I liked it there, too."  Comfort also means you think twice or perhaps even three times about inflicting your past on anyone else until there is a clear, valid opening.

With that set-up in place, your quotients of comfort and deference become challenged when you are reminded of things you did or said in the past that you do not remember.  This is particularly telling since you are reputed to have an extraordinary memory, which is in your own opinion more quirky than extraordinary, evidenced by the fact that you can remember stories of students from your past, or some arcane fact that, while accurate, has no real bearing on anything useful to you.

In a realistic way, when it comes to memory, you are indeed your parents' son.

"Say," your father would muse aloud, "what ever happened to--" at which point your mother would interrupt with an exasperated, "Oh, Jack, he's been dead for ten years," and your father would, with equal exasperation, respond, "Not him, I mean the man who was married to--"  Another sigh.  "He wasn't her first husband, you know."  "Right.  He used to be married to what's-her-name, whose father owned the furniture stores."  "They were lighting fixture stores."  "Not him!  I mean that place where you got the sofa that had mice in it."   They could--and did--go on like that for several minutes, all to your wishing you could get the rhythms, pauses, growing sense of increased impatience, which even then you recognized had nothing to do with each other but rather each with a personal irritation about the way the past has or morphing into something that leaves you wondering which version of it is correct.

Story is such a convenient, human trait.  We are drawn to individuals who tell them well, whether the telling is simply their way of verbalizing an event in which we were present (and now see differently through the telling), making us wish we were there, causing us to fictionalize to the point where we now believe we were there.  We are drawn to individuals whose life appears to us to be a story in progress, with little time for narrative leaps.  Sometimes, in reflective moments, we seek to inject story into portions of our life that seem in retrospect to have been uneventful.  We stand as Yeats stood in his poem,"Among School Children:"

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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