I’ve long been envious of the verbal snapshots that the great diarists of the past such as Samuel Pepys or Winston Churchill. With a key observation, a pithy phrase, a few jotted words, they punctuated their lives in ink. I’ve always been amazed at how terse many of these daily observations are. Not verbose. Not show offy. Just a scattering of words that serve as bread-crumbed path to memory.
I was thinking about this, thinking about so many things really, as I drove drone-like along the highway, having once again helped set the year in motion, having sent everyone off to school once again. I miss them. I want so much to remember. I’m frightened that I won’t remember. I fret.
But remembering should be easy, shouldn’t it? With the touch of a button I can snap off a dozen photos, with another swipe I can organize and categorize them. With a final fillip I can even swirl them into a Sundance quality montage. The funny thing is, I don’t do this. I don’t really want to.
September is always a pull up your socks kind of a month. New shoes, new teachers, new ideas, new beginnings. Moving forward, there is always the pull of the past, the fear of forgetting where you came from, from what brought you to this point to get you where you’re going.
I’ve stopped trying to remember everything. That’s overwhelming, impossible. But there is another way. Memory for me has become kaleidoscopic, ever shifting, always responsive to another twist of the dial. I sieve my memories, washing away the dross. It’s true there are gaps. It’s true my thoughts often aren’t always linear. Instead my memories are responsive to where I am and to what I’m doing. They’re malleable. To crystallize them, freeze them wouldn’t work for me. Because for me, memory isn’t a trip to the past so much as a path to the present.
So while I do take and keep photographs of those I care for they’re not the first place I look when I want to stir memories. Instead I’ll conjure images that are for me far more evocative and powerful.
- Miniature cacti plants in an apartment window
- A trio of tiny socks
- Double scoop of Superman ice cream
- A box of Lucky Charms.
- A bottle of coke and a stack of Hydrox
- Double- breasted pinstriped suits
- A green-striped rugby shirt
- A Charles Culver camel
- “Bow-ties are cool.”
- The elusive Charizard
- The Strand
- “Come, you Game Boys!”
- Piles of Pocket DKs
- “Just a slice” of pumpkin pie
- Tins of Mandelbrot
- Pizza Bob’s
- A Double-Tiered, handmade, backyard fort
- A deep green GTO
- A pint of Haagen-Dazs, a dishtowel, a spoon
- Sunglasses inside
- A giant bowl of cherries
The swirling thoughts that are stirred bring all of these people closest to me vividly back once again. These images are my rubric, my guideposts. To think in images keeps memory alive, not pasted into a scrapbook. It’s a brave and thrilling thing to do. It’s worth it to give yourself the pleasure of crafting memory instead of grasping for it.
The great diarists left themselves a map to recreating memory. I try to do the same. What a gift, what a joy! Once again my mind returns to the magical Richard Jeffries who said in The Story of My Heart,
“Full to the brim of the wondrous past, I felt the wondrous present!”
And that is just how I want to feel, how I hope everyone feels, as we once again sweep into the brace of September and onward to a sweet new year.