A friend passed book to me, insisting vividly that I read it. “Ongoingness, The End Of A Diary”, by Sarah Manguso is a personal essay on the course of a diary that was kept through life. This friend had spotted a tendency of mine that I had never before: a propension to document every aspect of my life that I, randomly, judge worthy of retaining.
This propension I have for recollection, makes me estranged to the concept of ephemerality. I could never understand the appeal of Snapchat, a Buddha board or performance art.
What do you choose to remember, and why ? In my case, not that I like to admit it, it’s a gesture of control – I am, consciously or not, carefully selecting the memories. By documenting, I am not making anything, I am rather transforming, analyzing, learning, re-contextualizing, validating. I don’t document in fear of fomo, it is more in the nature of questioning, looking for a consensus: am I the only one who sees things the way I see them?
It’s also a matter of going through things in deep rather than staying on the surface. What is the meaning of these things I am seeing, and why do I feel an urge to pin it down. It’s less about sharing than keeping. Sharing, in my case, happens in a setting of words – a story told, a caption, a status, an essay.
In this vein, part of my person, including my metier is anchored in sense of stationary. Reflecting on this that has happened, memories and experiences do not make me a forward-looking person by definition, as I am only in opposition, switching paths or gears after trials and tribulations. I don’t do well with disruption, and upon change, I often need preparation or a moment, long or short, of dwelling. I am a walking reminiscence, anchored in our present time.
There is a conversation about our capacity of retaining, in this age of abundance of news and stimuli. What happens inside of us when the mind remembers?
The memory of the oldest person I am close to, a life full of lives and experiences I cannot even fathom, is a story observed in real-time. My dad, who was born in the 40s, never speaks about the past, except when asked to. It is as if nothing that took place was memorable, in the naïve sense of it, as if joy and good times were always around the corner despite the greatest difficulties. As clueless as he can be about the course of things, he never seemed fazed by anything he did not know.
I believe that my father’s brain was wired to strictly remember the important stuff. In his case, it meant places (he drove a taxi for some 30 years and never used a GPS) and people (his family and friends he made over a long life spent in different countries), which seems enough in a context of survival. Modernity never touched him. ATM machines were never his friends, he never learnt how to use a computer, does not know what Apple products are (despite that I worked for this company for years), doesn’t know what Facebook implies- and that is just fine. I myself encouraged this behaviour, admirative of how simple it made life. As intense everything always is for me, all always seemed surrounded by calm and kindness around him. We always yearn for what we cannot have.
Witnessing fragments of memory leaving someone is a hard scene. A mind that does not remember causes panic. My dad started losing his memory due to old age and illness, and he sensed that he was starting to forget that he was forgetting.
Memory is desperately intangible, despite the amount of time, conscious or not, we spend remembering — where your keys are to the ways of someone you lost. Remembering, in itself, is not an emotion, neither isit a reaction although almost invariably causing one or the other. Yet, memory is one element that strikes us and shapes us the most as human beings.
I cannot tell if my dad’s constant worry — what did you eat today — directly translates to “I remember what hunger feels and I do not want you to ever have to live through it, if it be only for a second’’, or if it’s less dramatic than I imagine, if he is simply curious to know. Nor would I ask him if he retains that information, for he asks me it almost every time we speak on the phone, which is several times a week, or if he notices how he asks that question as invariably as “how was your day”.
A lot of questions remain. What has been forgotten? What is remembered? As my dad cannot remember my address or my birthday, he insists that he is not forgetting me although it’s harder now to reach out since he cannot remember how to use his smartphone. He remembers how to hide the truth for me, about his health, his state, his autonomy. He remembers how anxious I can be.
What we remember does not matter, in a sense. I’m am forcing myself to forget. Forget how worried I am, forget how I make a big deal of everything, forget how much I fail. When it comes to my dad, I only want to remember the positive, childishly pushing away reality.
Paradoxically, the more you know, the less you are prone to forget. That why we learn to remember better. There are certainly benefits in forgetting. I call it lightness, it can be compared to a bliss of ignorance. You can flush the bad, and that is, ultimately, a luxury.
Writing is an old-school medium. I find it hard to be in-tune with my time. I wish I could plunge in my father’s memory, turning it into art, into a book, into an essay, into tweets and an Instagram feed. I wish I could use it as my comfort when I’m tired of my own narrative. But memory does not save anything in time. We don’t stay the same.
As long as I can write, I have a constant access to my memory, to my dreams and thoughts, to how my days were spent. I write to forget. I write to carry on, I write to make sense of things. In the big sense of things, I would, strangely, want to be forgotten. I’m amazed and puzzled when people remember me or my work.
I cannot wrap my head around this eulogy I am constantly making, neither am I capable of conceiving a future. In addition to all of the RAM and virtual storage, I wish you to have enough: enough time to remember everything and enough space to put it in.