Monday, 25 February 2019


The trigger to a memory is like a key, shaped out of insubstantial stuff - the touch of a breeze, a native tree in bloom, the bark of a dog, a crow sitting on a far wire, the strike of E Flat minor or a green frog jumping on concrete, stones under water.

Once the key is turned, like the sea, memories all come flooding back: words, smells, sounds and mind videos in color both sharp and grainy, sometimes flat as a snapshot, sometimes in glorious 3D. Memories so sharp you can get lost in them, memories you can study and see detail that escaped you first time round.

I do not know where the memories are kept. They are not in my head for i have searched every room and dug out every canal and broken down every door up there till there in nothing but sunlight. They are not written in books, nor recorded on tape or stuck to the back of some elder's head. It is a mystery.

Some of the ancients tried to explain it. I read, in one of the old chronicles, that you can go back in time to a particular moment - but you must first build an anchor and throw it into the river of time, so you can pull yourself back. But i cannot remember doing that, i cannot remember saying i must remember this. There are places I do not want to come back to: holding the hand of a dying child I tried to rescue in the mountains, digging into an embankment as a fire rolled over us, falling from my horse, leaving a home for the last time. These anchorless wastelands call me back as often as those green lands full of esctasy and pure happiness: standing on the edge of Kanangra Walls and touching feeling the infinite wash through me.

We dabble in the great mysteries, yet do not understanding this, the smallest and most insubstantial of things: where do memories live.


Anonymous said...

Ah, but you were looking in the wrong place. Memories become part of you. They are absorbed in all that is you. They change you, they shape you, they are you.

JulianneB said...

Very thought Provoking. Love the the image. I also like what Anonymous wrote. " they are you"

Peter Quinton said...

You wrote:
"Ah, but you were looking in the wrong place. Memories become part of you. They are absorbed in all that is you. They change you, they shape you, they are you."

Augustine talked of the marvel of the "storehouse of memory" which contains not the original but a recollection of it which can be "seized with such marvelous speed, and stored away marvelously as if in cabinets, and as marvelously brought forth again when we remember."

Still others ancients struggled with the notion of forgetting. Some wondered if nothing is utterly forgotten even if it falls below the horizon of immediate accessibility.
Yesterday i struggled to remember the name of a painful chest condition, 'pleurisy'. For many hours, i stayed away from all the normal ways of searching electronic recall, as my mind slowly built a picture of pain, and recalled attendances at a doctor, days in bed, visits to the hospital and, finally, the pleasure of being free of the pain.
But the name would still not come to me. As my mind caught threads of the time, my mind filled with hours and days of recollection: of the home i once lived in, its little garden, of a record turning on its player, red wine sipped on a balcony, snow falling on the lake, arguments for clients in courts, blood spilled on broken glass. Gradually i fell more back into that time, of forgotten names, of paths pursued and those left untraveled.
None of the memories were forced, some of the images razor sharp, some soft and blurred. The remembered music sharper than my fire-fighting damaged hearing permits me today.

All the time, i smiled at your notion - that this is me. It was certainly not imagination nor intellectual reconstruction. It was too detailed, a surprise and a delight.
Had i dipped into one of Augustine's cabinets and pulled out a file? Or had i looked through an imperfect window onto that world that was. I had certainly not returned with the capacity to change it. I could not interrupt the doctor's diagnosis. I could not take one of the paths untrod. I could not listen to the other records lying there in the collection.

If this is me, what treasures and demons await in Augustine's cabinets.

Peter Quinton said...

JulianneB :)
And so it goes, and you're the only one that knows.
Today i cant help feeling that little bits of me are scattered in all sorts of unlikely places: a note on a fridge, an argument recorded on a court transcript, words spoken to a friend and caught only by the wind. Today perhaps all of these are parts of me.
You have reminded me of Shakespeare's Shylock in the Merchant of Venice, a character drawn sharply that can take new life each time an actor dons his slippers. Memories can be shared, reshaped and reborn.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am no Augustine, but my experience tells me that memories are mostly shaped by how experiences made us feel. Our personal interpretations of facts. Others, who shared the same exact moment in the past will not hold that same memory that we do, because they are a different person.

That filing system... It should be updated and preferably digitized. Those dusty cabinets and drawers, cobwebs and mice, things get lost (and eaten) there all the time, just like the word you were looking for.
It stores only dry facts. Not what it did to us. The real memories have been absorbed, processed and implemented and are now revived by smells and sounds and sights, but already are part of us.

You wrote somewhere that you write stories of the past and future.
Please don't forget to write the present. It's the only time you have. The only time you can shape and improve. Opportunities to take, new emotions to experience - now there's an adventure! :))

Peter Quinton said...

Not Augustine wrote:
"That filing system... It should be updated and preferably digitized."
If i consign a memory to a note (say this one), does it become part of me too? Lets say i try to consign to the note every bit of detail of a red bloom i noticed today. I could start with a summary of the glance, and proceed to recreate a fragment of the moment, but i am not sure i can consign to the note all the visual detail of the moment nor accurately describe the breeze, the distant rumble of thunder, the heat or the squawks of the white cockatoos whose company i have been unhappily gifted. I could make a start. I could make a key, and the key will bring me back, however imperfectly, to the moment until memory fades to mere imagination (Hobbes pessimistically foretold, "nothing but decaying sense").

If,however, i am gradually becoming part human and part digitized record, what penalty should be imposed on those who, in cutting out the heart they have bargained for, drop blood along the way.

You wrote
"Please don't forget to write the present. It's the only time you have."
Thank you. The trouble with the present, damn, it has slipped away AGAIN.
I enjoy writing about the present, that wonderful wave we all ride. Experience the present to the fullest, write about it while the taste is fresh. Thanks :)