“You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.” ~Luis Bunuel
Nothing thrills me more than a good topic with no real answers. A conversation can go on for days in my mind with questions swirling like leaves in a fall wind. Such a topic has been stuck recently, and the winds picked up while reading the book “Before I Go to Sleep” by S.J. Watson.
Memories and their importance or insignificance in the makeup of who we are.
Have you ever watched a group of reunited friends around the table while they slap down misty water colored memories with a glint in their eye. As the recollections come alive in their mind, they are reminded, not just of another time, but of another self. Who they used to be. Old joys. Old lives. Old dreams. The dream of winning the High School Championship. The dream of the changes they would make in the world. The dream of being more than they are now. A hero. It was in their grasp, in the good ol’ days. Not like now when punching data into a computer or digging another hole for a fence on a luxurious property they’ll never own. There is no heroism in that. No excitement. Nothing at stake. Perhaps that old spark is rekindled. Perhaps just tucked away until the next time the old gang gets together to share memories.
Memories awaken something within us. They also bond. I can share my dreams or hopes with you all day long, but in the end, they are my dreams alone. Memories are meant to be shared, a connection with someone else. When we try to share memories with someone not connected, they become a you-just-had-to-be-there moment. Perhaps it is that bonding that we miss when we mourn. Memories don’t die, but turn into you-just-had-to-be-there moments forever. Because no one else will ever quite understand.
Memories are what connect us to the world on a personal level, deeper than opinions or theories. They are what makes us real, giving us hope and reminding us of our passions.
It is a culmination of who we have been that makes us who we are. Like a brilliant collage, one piece added at a time.
So, what happens when our memories are gone? S.J. Watson examined this in “Before I Go to Sleep”. I just finished reading the brilliant story, and while I found the plot predictable, Watson’s description of memory loss was enchanting. The pages turned themselves. Phrases like, “Nothing feels real, everything invented. Even myself.” A life with no memories. I think of all the times I laugh at an embarrassing story with a wave of my hand. “I wish I could forget. Don’t remind me,” I say, when in truth, who are we without them? Without heartaches, laughter, embarrassment, and fears? Is it possible to define yourself not knowing where you came from? How does one make decisions without lessons learned from the past?
More so, how does one gauge time? Throughout the book, Christine Lucas wakes with no memory of anything proceeding that moment. She opens her eyes believing that she was in her late 20’s only to look in the mirror and feel betrayed. Memory is how we gage the passing days. Those years of hell. The happiest times. Remember when we were carefree?
“I don’t know how long I stood there. For me, time stretches, is always meaningless. Years have slipped through me, leaving no trace.” ~S.J. Watson
I am apparently obsessed with memories as I write. Characters constantly see the world through their memories. A tree reminding them of a conversation. A smell taking them back to an individual who tainted their life choices. Little memories that spring up to make them real. As I dive into finish “Itsy’s Ugly”, I realize how strong my obsession is as I blur the lines between reality and memories. Conventional wisdom in the writing world suggests minimal flashbacks and I battle with this wisdom for who are characters without their memories? The little details that bring them to life? Are they not more than just the contents of their days?
I asked a friend this question.
“If you had to chose, would you rather lose all your memories of the past? Or never be able to make a new memory from this day forward?”
He had no answer. I admit, it’s an unfair question as the future becomes the past far too quickly. And there I go starting circles again. I’m glad he didn’t turn the question back on me. It would turned into a never-ending conversation while I avoided the answer. So, now, I ask you.
Who are you without your memories?
And who are your characters without theirs?