~ Sunday, April 13, 2003 ~
Memory is such an odd thing. We rely so heavily upon it to function as social beings, and yet it's so completely insubstantial, and frequently unreliable. At least with me. I've discovered in multiple instances that some of my most vivid memories have turned out to be fallacious. Very disturbing. Sometimes I think that half the time it's not the actual event I'm remembering, but the experience of remembering that event, and then the experience of remembering remembering it the next time I think of it, and then recalling the memory of *that*, and so forth, so that by the time several years have passed, there's been plenty of opportunity for impurity to creep in...every memory is a copy of the last copy, colored in with imagination a little bit, until soon it's more imagination than actual recall. I've had experiences like this--when I was little we (my family and I) would visit friends who lived far away, and because they were far away it was only every so often we'd visit. I'd try to hold onto the face of this family's daughter, but when we actually showed up at the door, I would be jarred, because she didn't look the way I remembered her at all. Or another time--okay, this is a long story, but worth it, I think: In fall quarter of freshman year, I had two classes with the same prof. Philosophy IHUM had three profs, and one of them, the one who specialized in Plato and Aristotle, was also teaching Philosophy 100 (Greek Philosophy) that quarter, which I was also taking. The finals for both classes were in-class essay tests. Three essays in three hours, but from the nine topics we were given beforehand we had to prepare to write six essays (two from each of the three categories), because of a thing that is easy for me to understand but for some reason too difficult to explain. Anyway. We were allowed to fill one piece of paper with notes to aid us in the essay-writing, but (this Greek phil professor sternly warned us at the end of the final class session) there was to be no writing out all six essays in longhand and then origami-ing all the pieces of paper together into one 8.5x11 piece, and there was to be no writing out all six essays on microfiche and then bringing our magnifier into the final. I laughed, and went home to fall apart under stress. I had to write sixteen essays that week. Twelve short ones, sure, but four of longish paper length, some of which were on Aristotle. I was desperately afraid of Aristotle.
Monday morning at 8:30 was the IHUM final. I stayed up all Sunday night preparing my six essays, and then sufficiently reducing them to note form so that they'd fit on one piece of 8.5x11 paper. I have this image of sitting cross-legged on my desk next to my computer with my back against the wall (I liked to sit on my desk more than on my chair...probably because it made me further from the floor, the floor which tempted me with its soft rug-like coziness, so sleep deprived was I that quarter) surrounded by books by Plato and books by Nietsche and the grey course reader and PILES of notes, desperately trying to improve the essays as the hours went by...2:30, 3, 4:30, eek, only four more hours, and still two essays to go!--and so tired, so tired...how will I write essays coherently? Ah, well, expanding from note form will be mechanical, won't require much thought, thank goodness for the note sheet; I'd never be able to write the essays without it at this point. At last I managed to make all the notes for the six essays fit on one piece of paper, in three columns with .25" margins all written in Times, 7 point. I crammed it and my books (just in case) in my backpack and hopped on my bike and dashed off to Bishop Aud, where I found a seat and was handed a piece of paper that had the six acceptable essay topics written on it, and across the top, written in large bold type, it said that this final was closed-book, closed note. I was suddenly cold all over.
That can't be. I looked again, and it was still there. No. That's wrong. We're allowed one paper! I'm SURE I remember this! There was the origami, and the microfiche. I remember my Greek Phil prof talking about them, and I can *hear him saying it*. I can't be making up the origami and the microfiche! I was up all night preparing the notes. I can't take remember the essays without the notes. I'm too tired to think. I'll die. Worse, I'll fail the course.
It was an odd morning. Of course, the IHUM final was closed-note, and it always had been, and it was the Greek Phil final, which was on Thursday at 12:30, that had the one page of notes and the origami and the microfiche. I survived the IHUM final after all, though I started dozing off in the middle of the second essay, and what started out as "possesses" trailed off into "possessessessess" (I'm not making this up--I actually wrote that, and I still have the bluebook to prove it) but then I jolted and finished the final and was fine. But that's not the point. The point is the frightening realization that memory, or at least my memory, is unreliable. Even when it's really, really important.
In contrast to this, when I learned, in the middle of senior year, that my dad's mom had passed away, I went through this weird thing where I suddenly saw her house--not the new one where she'd moved five years ago, but her old one, with the gaudy chandeliers and the impossibly clean carpet and the rotting wood deck and the huge gardens--all of it, as if I were ten years old again and walking through it with my brother and sister, the way we used to do on Sunday afternoons sometimes when we all went to visit her. I hadn't thought of that house in years, and then all of a sudden there it was, right in front of me. I could see every room, even the rooms I'd forgotten about--the cat's room/laundry room, that could only be reached through a secret passage-type door on the other end of the bathroom, and the sunny room that overlooked the garden, where my grandfather would sit in the torn brown leather recliner and I would sit in the wicker chairs that scratched your legs and left red marks if you were wearing shorts. It was like being visited by a ghost. I stood there, leaning against the chair, the phone still in my hand, utterly oblivious to the world around me, walking slowly through my grandmother's old house.
When I remember things all of a sudden that I haven't thought of in years (houses, friends, experiences) they frequently come back to me in all their original technicolor glory, but if I'm constantly referring back to some memory, it starts to fade and diverge from the way it really was. So the moment we become conscious of a memory, we adulterate it? (How quantum-mechananicky.) The more we try to remember stuff, the more we invent? The process of memory is no more than creation of the past? Memories can be frozen, of course, through this or some other sort of documentation, but I wonder if there's a way to reverse the process. I hate to think that we are such feeble-minded creatures that the past can slip away from us as easily as all that, or that the reality of past events is so increasingly unavailable to us.
~ prattled by Miriam at 3:15 p.m. [+]
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