It is just another typical Sunday morning. After a late night/early morning watching the silence with a bottle of wine, I wake to my favorite show, “This American Life” and gather my thought for today.
Or maybe it’s my memory?
The show was called “595: In defense of ignorance” and it was about what we think. Or how we think. Or what we remember. Take a look at the link.
The story that caught my attention was about HSAM or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.
Hyperthymesia is the condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory. Hyperthymestics remember an abnormally vast number of their life experiences.
The word “hyperthymesia” derives from Ancient Greek: hyper- (excessive) and thymesis (remembering). Hyperthymesia is also known as hyperthymestic syndrome and highly superior autobiographical memory.
American neurobiologists Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill, and James McGaugh identified two defining characteristics of hyperthymesia: spending an excessive amount of time thinking about one's past, and displaying an extraordinary ability to recall specific events from one's past.
No, I don’t have hyperthymesia or at least have not been diagnosis with it but I’m not going to a shrink to find out. Yet the story did relate to some of my memories.
Many years ago, preparing to go to a summer camp, I was required to bring a trunk to store my personal stuff. Somehow my family purchased a WWII army footlocker and it remains with me now. A sturdy wooden trunk that weights a ton but was used as a coffee table and then just got in the way but traveled with me. It was the storage compartment for my memories.
School and wedding pictures were kept there. Drawings and letters and songs written in a previous time were stored there. Some jewelry and objects that at one time had a special meaning went into the trunk.
I kept a lock on it to keep others prying eyes away from my memories.
A few years ago, I took the lock off and peered inside. Through the cobwebs were high school yearbooks, a shirtsleeve with a song written on it, and some diaries.
I kept a diary from 1964 – 1971. A little black book for each year with a few lines for each day’s memories with tiny scribbles was my memories of high school and college.
I tried to read them and then decided to digitize the scrawling into a text file I could read. Hours of squinting and typing word-for-word transcriptions, I realized some of those brief statements did not fully describe that moment in time.
So in the dark of night, I decided to fill in the gaps. I started writing my autobiography. The words just flowed onto the screen and many a night turned into day before my hands stopped.
Then I stopped writing.
A few years later, I thought about these writing again and reflected that I also wrote songs during this period. The songs were just poems to music that also recorded a moment in time, so I added them to the text.
Then I stopped again.
Recently I sent whatever copy I could find to someone else to peruse and comment without re-reading it myself. Someday I may go back and finish it or it may stand as a memory of memories soon forgotten.
What makes me think of this is being at a time in life of reflection (until dementia sets in) is I remember a lot of stuff. I also have forgotten a lot of stuff.
Perhaps this is why we socialize with friends to try and remember the good times and laugh about the bad? Yet many of the memories did not involve these friends. And some of the friends that would remember are gone.
With very little distraction of life, I have much time to think. And thinking is remembering.
Some nights I can’t sleep remembering. Some nights I wake up remembering. Some days I dwelling in memories and other days I hold them at bay, but they are still there.
For the memories is what we choose to remember. Over the years, I sculpted my memories to what I prefer them to be. I’ve forgotten eight years of living with a woman and don’t understand why? I’ve found notes of other’s journals or had conversations that have taught me a different point of view of history.
Do my memories haunt me?
Some do but that is what it is and I accept it.
Dreams may be the brain trying to rationalize daily activity with memories or at least that is how I imagine it. Faces from the past and the future swirl around on my pillow until I decided I couldn’t take it anymore and change the channel.
So I’ve settled into accepting these little flashbacks and contemplation as a process to understand whom I think I am and who I might have been. At least from my own perspective and evaluation of life, my memories don’t bother me; some I’ve grown to enjoy.
The trunk has been cleaned out except for a few treasures but it is unlocked. There are a few memories that are dreams that bring a smile for it is all a fantasy.