I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Remembering things right

Tiger lilies in the wilderness
I am in the process of reading Oliver Sack's 2012 book, Hallucinations, and it seems to be affecting me in ways I never expected. I'm having them, hallucinations, that is. Power of suggestion? I wonder. He explains in the book that there are many kinds of hallucinations, and I realized when reading it that I tend to have olfactory hallucinations. I smell things that aren't there. It happens fairly often, and I think it might be because I suffer from allergies and sometimes can't smell much of anything. And then suddenly, I get a powerful whiff, usually pleasant.

Yesterday I went to the garden store looking for an organic pesticide for the aphids that have begun to appear on some of my flowers. I bought some neem oil for my ailing columbines. While I was at the store, I stopped to smell the beautiful roses in the entryway, and I just loved their incredible odor, as they had opened and released their perfume in the sunshine. I also learned that many roses, hothouse ones in particular, don't have any smell. I wondered if it was my nose or what the story is. The ones I was smelling are bred for their scent, so it was very strong.

Then I went to REI to look for some new boots. (I'm not quite ready to buy, but I wanted to see what  version my current brand of boots looks like today.) I kept turning around looking for the rose scent I kept smelling, and there was nothing to indicate the source. After wandering around in the store for awhile, I realized it was my nose hallucinating the strong rose scent. Or was I remembering what I had recently smelled?

Another place in the book Sacks mentions the process of remembering, and how faulty memory actually can be. Some researchers have shown that people don't remember events in the same way as time goes on. Memories are not stored in the brain like photographs or audio recordings of events; memories are recreated when they are accessed. And when we access old memories, they are modified in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. I know when my sister Norma Jean and I compare memories of our childhood, our recollections can be wildly divergent. I used to think it is because we are different people experiencing the same events, but now I know that time has altered my memories, as well as hers.

It also makes me realize that eyewitness testimony is particularly useless. It's put innumerable people in jail for crimes they didn't commit, because the eyewitness was convinced their memory was correct, and it simply wasn't. Thank heavens for DNA evidence, which has cleared many innocent people. But I never considered how altered my own memory of events and people must be. I know that memories of my mother have altered through time, because I was never as fond of her in life as I am now. All the old hurts and resentments are gone, and all I have left are the wonderful memories, and even some hurtful memories are now affectionate recollections. The sting is gone, and the love remains.

I cherish the memories I have of my departed family and friends. Now that I realize that my memories of them are fluid, not fixed, it doesn't make them any less valuable, but after having been recreated within the chambers of my own mind, perhaps I can forget all the old hurts and resentments I've carried around by concentrating on the good parts and letting the rest be gently massaged into oblivion. Why should I haul out old grudges? They don't do anything but upset me.

Perhaps I can do the same thing with memories of shame and embarrassment I sometimes recall. In a way, I feel like I've stumbled on a technique that might give me peace and contentment about the past that I never considered. If memories are recreated every time I access them, I must also have some control over their effect upon me.

Today I am going to head down to Snohomish and play in the air with my friend Linny and whoever else shows up. I am intending to have a good time and come home tired and refreshed. I don't know how much longer I will be able to keep up this activity, but for now I am enjoying myself tremendously. And building up memories. On Wednesday my friend Jonelle from the hiking group is going to make a tandem, and I will go with her and jump out of the airplane at the same time. Not many people get to enjoy something like that together, so it's very exciting for both of us. Skydiving has given me many enjoyable memories.

It's time to get out of bed and start my day. I always begin my Sundays with this time together with the laptop and my blog. I think of what is most prominent in my mind and heart and try to capture the moment, as I tap the keyboard and read what comes out of my fingers. My partner is still asleep beside me, the tea is finished, and the birdsong coming through my open window is a harbinger of a wonderful day to come.

Happy Sunday to all, and one more thing: I ran across this lovely video on one of my blogging friends' website yesterday and want to share it with you. It's the shadow play of Raymond Crowe, an Australian entertainer (he calls himself an Unusualist on that link to his website). I found it to be simply enchanting. I hope you do, too. It's two and a half minutes of delight.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful song and wonderful finger play. I loved every minute of it. Thanks, DJan.
Your post today certainly resonated with me. Have fun in the sky this week.

Rian said...

I agree that our memories of the same events differ by perception as well as change over the years. Listening to my kids, I have said many times that 'it's hard to believe that you all grew up in the same house...'

And I loved the Shadowplay!

Lorna said...

I find it interesting that your feelings for your mother changed over time, from disaffection to affection.

Teri said...

Interesting information about memory and sense of smell, etc. This morning while searching for a book on Amazon, I came across a book about Hurricane Katrina, remembering Katrina made me think of my late husband and I watching the news of Katrina while working in out in our garage. Many things can trigger many memories. I have not been able to totally change my feelings about my Mom yet, it due time, I guess it may happen. I do not want to harbor bad feelings about anything that has happened in the past. Forward is the only way to move.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

That information is so interesting...the fact that we reconstruct a memory as we access it. I am often CERTAIN that I'm remembering things correctly, and only later do I think, hmm, maybe I was wrong. I wish I could modify my memories of embarrassing moments, because sometimes I feel the sting all these years later. Have a great, and memorable, week!

Jackie said...

I have a keen sense of smell and I notice that when I smell something, the smell lingers in my nose for a long time (especially bleach.)
I hope that you had a lovely day today as you were skydiving, and I hope that you and Jonelle have a fabulous time on Wednesday. Hiking and skydiving together....amazing!
Hugs to you, Jan.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Have fun freefalling! Sacks' book sounds fascinating. Memory is suck a tricky thing.

Arkansas Patti said...

You are probably right about memories. I am not sure I don't tend to color mine and fluff them up a bit unintentionally.
When you realize how vastly different eyewitness accounts are, it makes one wonder how accurate history is. It was written by humans after all, recording what they saw or heard. Scary.
I had seen that video before but thoroughly enjoyed it again. Thanks.

Gigi said...

I've noticed the memory thing - particularly between my husband and I - we constantly have different accounts. Mine are always the "right" memories though ;-)

Hope you had a wonderful day playing in the sky!

Red said...

Memory is a very intriguing concept. My brother and I are less than a year apart. Most of our memories are in sync. However, my memories as an adult differ from other people who were there, for example, my wife. I think to some extent our memories are like photo shop. we can change them ...probably by life time of experiences

Sally Wessely said...

This was a fascinating post. My sister and I remember things so differently. I always find that interesting. I was especially intrigued about the hallucinations of smell. I have a strong nose for smell. I find it has become less sharp as I age. Yesterday, I talked my husband into stopping at an open house of a house I thought was adorable from the outside. (I guess I am still house hunting even though I am perfectly happy where I am.) The house built in the 70's had old dirty, dirty carpet. As soon as I walked in the house I could smell state tobacco. The realtor insisted the owners were not smokers. Then I could smell cats and other very bad smells I won't describe. I had to get out of the place. Today, as we drove down the road that led to the house I swear I had a flashback to the smells. I thought I was going to get sick. This explains it. I think I'll go find some roses to smell!

Linda Reeder said...

I was taken aback my your comment about your mother, because you always speak so lovingly about her now. but i think the same thing is happening to me. I really worked hard on our relationship in the few years before my mother died, and now I tend to forget all those years when I did not feel loved or close to her.
I guess if our memories IMPROVE over time, that's a good thing.
I loved the shadowplay.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Interesting thoughts today. I await the time that some of my memories mellow:)

Rita said...

I like to take bad memories and find something funny about them. Even absurd or sarcastic silly humor will work. ;) When I can laugh or giggle over them then they can't hurt me anymore...or not as much. Laughter is like a healing balm for me.

I think that sounds like an interesting book. I've also found that memories can change over time and that siblings remember events differently--probably for many reasons. Eyewitnesses are notoriously mistaken. For one thing, you "interpret" what you experience in the first place and then you remember what is significant to you personally. Memory is a funny thing.

I love your idea of changing and letting go of the ones you don't need or that don't serve you well. Who needs 'em!! :):)

Mel said...

What a great post, so thought provoking, and a wonderful video at the end too!

I will have to read the Oliver Sacks book because both he and the topic fascinate me. I listened to a fantastic lecture online by Bertram Cohler at University of Chicago, called Nostalgia and Modernity. He primarily studied Holocaust survivors recollections, but some of his observations really resonated with me, particularly how we constantly review, reassess and reinterpret events of the past, as coping mechanisms. He also talks about how nostalgia for the past can provide a sense of coherence and meaning and sustenance in the future, particularly in difficult times and how memories can function as soothing transitional object, a virtual blankie :) I decided that my obsession with looking back, trying to remember and understand is part of my healing process.

I have found myself doing that often in my genealogy when I learn something new that give me some insight or forgiveness for what I remember. I also think of the saying there is your truth, my truth and the truth, and it's so hard to agree on what actually occurs because of our limited perceptions and paradigms.

I was talking about you this weekend! One of our volleyball players got a skydive for graduation, and she was nervous. I told her about you and assured her that the instructors were well trained and would take good care of her. She couldn't believe how many jumps you have taken! So, you inspire people you haven't even met :)

Glenda Beall said...

I am interested in this book on memory. Lately, memory has become more important to me.
Your smell hallucinations is a new one for me. I'll research that also. Today in the grocery store an awful chemical smell filled the whole place. by the time I got out of there, my entire face hurt, my eyes ached and I felt awful.
I have smells that seem to cling and won't go away. It drives me crazy trying to figure out what I smell and why it bothers me. Great post, DJan, as always.