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Remembering & Forgetting

Winter holidays are occasions for the creation of memories that bond families, communities, and loved ones. Yet memory is a strange twilight, not real but sometimes more vivid than reality. Memory creates the context that makes meaning possible.

Facebook offers up memories—what we were doing last year on this day, then two years ago or five, like an arctic core bore straight down of a single date over five years. But not much before because it depends on when you joined Facebook and, ultimately, on how long Facebook has existed.

Thirty years ago I had a black hard-bound notebook—not a journal because this book was from 1983-86, before the infection of ‘daily pages’ which are the larval form of the incessant self-documentation that has been taken up by Facebook—and I would periodically open to a random spot and paste in a post card someone had sent or a letter (we wrote letters back then) or do a small ink doodle that resembled knotted tree roots or vines. I might notate a Tarot reading or an I-Ching throw. Sometimes I wrote a thought or feeling or scene.

Yesterday, I took a look for the first time in thirty years. In the corner of a page in the middle of the notebook I wrote about spending the afternoon with my parents and my niece, Jocelyn, who was a baby. We were probably babysitting her. It was summer on Cape Cod. I wrote about passing through a gate with beach roses and walking down to the shore. I wrote about how my father picked up pieces of shell and stones for Jocelyn to play with. I wrote about feeling deeply content and about picking up Jocelyn and hoisting her onto my hip to carry her home and loving her. And the extraordinary thing is that I do not remember this at all. I. Do. Not. Remember. This. At. All. I don’t remember ever holding her as a baby. I don’t remember the roses or the gate. I don’t remember that day.

You know how now everyone takes a gazillion pictures of the babies in their lives and these pop up endlessly on Facebook and then Facebook reminds you every year how last you held baby so-an-so at Christmas or whenever and you smile and remember it. Well, I have no pictures like that. There are no pictures of me with any of my three nieces as babies because it was thirty years ago before Facebook and people didn’t carry cameras with them all day every day. I didn’t write down my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t ‘broadcast/share’ my thoughts and feelings because there was no Facebook. I wrote letters but whoever I wrote to has doubtless thrown those letters away. I talked on the phone but those conversations have disappeared. I sat with friends in cafes, in stairwells, on grassy hills, on New York City stoops and talked but none of it was captured. I lived. I lived with others. I lived, apparently at least one day, with my baby niece. I held Jocelyn but how would I have known this had I not noted it in that notebook and read it yesterday for the first time since it happened? Because I don’t remember it…

It was intensely disturbing to me that I didn’t remember this sweet scene from thirty years ago. How much don’t I remember? It seems a blessing to have this edited version of myself but also shocking that not every moment is stored in my mind where I can retrieve it if I want. We do not remember everything. We forget very important things. And I wonder—you can chime on how this sits with you—about the overwhelm of self-documentation and the glut of memories technology loads us with.

Facebook offers up memories with an innocence only the immortal young can feel. Now most every age group uses Facebook. The internet and Facebook have been around long enough that it has been universally integrated into our way of living. But it carries the ethos of the tech era which continually upgrades, obviating previous versions. Memories on Facebook are fodder. They haven’t marinated. They haven’t been there unseen for long enough to startle us upon rediscovery. And they will never sit long enough in a dark cask until being excavated because Facebook turns them up every year. We are never allowed to forget unless of course we leave Facebook.


Design ArabesqueSnapshot
An old family friend stopped by yesterday with a Christmas basket she’d made for me. She has been making one every year for my parents, but they are gone and I am the only one left at this house she has come to year after year. I am the last vestige of a world that has surrounded her for more than fifty years. We chatted. She mentioned that she had finally found a senior living situation she likes in Pennsylvania where her nephew lives. If she knew she would fall asleep one night and not wake she would just stay in her little house here on Cape Cod, but…and she laughed…and that handled the truth that almost no one dies in their sleep without first passing through weeks/months/years of increasing incapacitation and the need for help. I nodded. I showed her some photos I had stumbled upon while while cleaning out this house. She was young, standing on rocky shore with a lobster pot strapped to her back. She said she’d been in Maine with my aunt, which is why I had the picture. She remembered she had made the plaid shirt she was wearing. She and my aunt were about to return home to a massive power outage on the East Coast that lasted for a week and I remembered that outage—I had been in NYC living in a dance loft on Broadway and Prince with my friend and fellow dancer, Susan Osberg. I remembered looking down from the 12th floor at night and seeing only car headlights swing round corners in an otherwise blacked-out city. This elderly friend and I laughed how it was a long outage but not the end of the world.

She drove  away. As I closed the door, it suddenly struck me that she had come to say goodbye. She is 86 and getting lame. If she moves to the elder living near Philly, and she probably will, she will never come back to the Cape. In her visit, she had been quietly letting me know. The Christmas basket was a goodbye gift. How gently people say things sometimes, especially the generation that has been up in front. I felt such a deep stab in my heart for not getting this while she was here and meeting her eye with understanding. And also a panic of being close to the top now, not much air left in my stateroom on the sinking Titanic.

Significance is everywhere around me, but not where I can predict that it will be.




Dancemeditation_LOGO_B&WI am delighted that you are with me and appreciate your sharing these writings friends. Thank you!

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    1. This is a Facebook interchange with Kate Temple-West:

      Kate Temple-West: Dunya you may be pleased to know that this Facebook post is the very first one I have ever recorded in my own journal. I often record paragraphs of books in my journal to reflect upon… There is so much richness in your post, and also things for me to disagree about, such as morning pages being the start of daily journaling. Graham Green was asked to write down a dream every night as an adolescent when his father put him in analysis at the start of that discipline… Turned him into a novelist.

      I kept a daily journal long before I read the Artist’s Way. I don’t actually agree with the concept of morning pages… I call journaling wood shedding, the term used by guitarists when they practice.

      Yesterday I read a journal from when I was 19, a rare find because I shredded most of my journals from my twenties. It was actually a bit frightening to read my thoughts from that age! It starts off with a fictionalized story of a sexual relationship I didn’t actually have, but the rest is real… I suppose this fictionalized relationship was the end of my childhood of telling tall tales. It was also interesting for me to note what I recorded as well as the memories I have of that time that I left out. Of special interest to me are the dreams I recorded that have become more meaningful since, with clear prophetic outcomes. And oh, was I sexual! My inner feminist is proud.

      Over the years I’ve written not for a hypothetical reader from the future, but to engage future me when I reread. It is the same reason I collage and draw in my journals. I am more likely to find pleasure reading those pages later.

      I also no longer go on and on about feelings and emotional insights with no description, as this is interminably boring to read later, of course. I’ve trained myself to ground those feelings and thoughts in the tactile present, and even if it seems I write every day about my tea cup, I actually love tea cups and it turns out that I can read about them endlessly! And I notice that there is something unique to be found in each day. Just as I had that thought, I looked out the bathroom window here at the cabin, I noticed that Aresh had tossed the soggy celery into the forest instead of dutifully composting it as I would have. It froze overnight, wrapped around dried wild carrot stalks, so that it resembles an acrobat swinging ropes frozen in animation…

      May Sarton in her Journal of a Solitude writes about her frustration with agreeing to advise a young woman who is writing a journal for publication. She says that it is not really a thing for the young to do, because you have to catch insights on the wing, and ground them in the passing of a storm or a conversation with a friend. It was the best paragraph I’ve read on the art of journaling. It is an art. I can’t imagine anyone doing morning pages year after year without slowly becoming bored sick of this and transforming their journals into an offering of art.
      Anyway, Facebook doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the joys and jewels to be found in journaling, but journaling certainly makes one a better Facebook poster, not to mention writer.
      I always love reading your posts. Right now I am getting back to letter writing, and am glad in general for the kind of technological skepticism that seems to be emerging as part of the aftermath of our current political crisis.

      Perhaps we will grow up a bit regarding technology to become more like the Greeks, who have digital music downloads and ebooks, but also many stores in Athens sell and repair record players. Many people still have cassette recorders too. They don’t discard older technologies when newer ones arise. There are bookstores on almost every block in streets in that city… When I was there I thought it might have to do with the possibility of cultural collapse being part of the collective consciousness.

      Our bumbling-into-the-future culture is starting to reap what we’ve sewn…. I predict a major Facebook backlash / course correction sometime soon…

      Dunya: Super super read here. Maybe I’m just older than you and have less energy, but I have learned lately that, though daily morning writing is honing my craft, without question it takes a lot of energy and I have to pace myself each day on how my creative energy is spent. I’ve stopped writing feelings unless in a crisis and, like you, ground my writing in topic or focus of one type of another. I’ve have also seen, since doing this, that I’m less anxious. Perhaps spilling my feelings so often did not allow them to simmer and shape up, leaving me a bit ragged, too excavated, or simply indulging. I think we both regard Facebook as a publishing platform and have wanted to put up well-crafted memoir bits. I certainly love reading what you write because I am reading good writing and thinking. But that’s another direction…This post was a musing/query on memory as a slippery and strange and surprising beast, and wondering how recording or not recording one’s life changes the capacity to remember, as well as the truth of memory, or of how much memory we can stand to have or how little—favorite topics of memoirists and prosecuting attorneys of course, but doubtless of all people with the capacity for abstract thinking.

      December 6, 2016
    2. I am coming to this post of yours about memory on Xmas day, which for me is pleasantly quiet with recent, strong, and lovely memories of Los Angeles where last week I visited with my daughter Katy for 6 days. And with no current need on my part or from other family members to make the actual day of Xmas some recapitulation and recycling of past behavior and memories.

      There are three parts to my comments.

      First, I have one sister, one brother – both slightly older. Our parents passed away 10-15 years ago. We each have one child, ranging in ages from 27-45. There are memories we are making moving forward.

      Throughout my experience with my sister I have found that she remembers much, much more from our youth than I. She retains many, many details about our youth, and times of the family and many and various parts of life. I remember very very little. The difference is so noticeable that I have had to analyze it. In my interpretation of this I have come to the theory that there is much that I do not want to remember. My time as a younger person was as someone with many threads of questions and uncertainties relating to gender, with much need to manage and hide the thoughts and experience. There were many parts to forget, perhaps repress.

      So I have put out the memories, and have not wanted to keep them. Or I have not been able to keep them.

      That said, in therapy, with an intention to move out of a place I chose not to stay in, I reconstructed a narrative of younger moments and retrieved necessary memories, perhaps as a narrative reconstructed along a line that was useful for the present, and for the becoming.

      Secondly, I have come to understand that our brains are simply not able to keep everything. We do not have the space. I do not know whether or not the analogies or metaphors of computer and brain have any usefulness, so in saying what I do here I want to be cautious and disclaim that paradigm. But I do believe that as we take in new memories we have to move old memories out to have have space for the new.

      I am trying to read some things by Gerald Edelman, a neurologist, and gain some understanding of his theory of “neural darwinism.” What I appreciate of the theory, from what little I can understand so far, is that the development of who we are and the consciousnesses that each of us has becomes unique and singular – each brain is different. So perhaps my sister’s brain became a certain way that was better able, or more ready, to keep memory. An my brain, because as it was forming it was processing some discontinuity in gender and body, became less able to keep memory. I am speculating/wondering.

      Finally, I find myself intrigued that when I work with a client and listen to them at a first meeting for an hour or two, and take no notes, I can none the less recapitulate all the key ideas that were discussed so as to give them back a good list of notes about the ideas for the project. I attribute this to the spatialization of the ideas. The memory of the discussion is linked to spatial objects/things. The information gets embodied in a spatial “idea” as the conversation moves along and there is some easy ability I have to retrieve these spatialized memories. Is that because my mind is ready, perhaps trained, to work with these spatial objects? (And this is noticeable because these days I have to make lots of lists to be be able remember what to do so as to get through the day.)

      I am not at all sure how this “spatialization of memory” relates to the first two items. For now it is nothing more than an observation of something that intrigues me. And of course relates to some certainty that putting experience into space, and into the body, is so very important.

      And that would be why the whole Facebook thing, while having some place that is fun, useful, new, and unique … is also ephemeral and not of substance.

      Ah … so now my comments became longer than I might have intended when starting. And some of what I said I discovered as I wrote. So nice to be able to read your writing, and react to it.

      December 25, 2016
      • Dana, I love reading your writing as well. I agree about the spaciousness of relationship. And I love that you give me latitude to not worry about not remembering.

        January 8, 2017

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