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The Fine Art of Memory Making

By Connie Robillard

The creation of memory is one of those life mysteries. Why does the mind-body register some sounds, words, images as internal data, while other material is simply washed away? Perhaps inside us there is a part of personality that, like a scribe, records what our inner world finds meaningful. Perhaps the scribe makes mistakes as data is recorded; forgetting to erase what is useless information and erasing that which is needed and over attending to the unusual and traumatic.

Today at an art show a woman came to my booth. Amongst my art was a photograph of a cactus flower. I had never been to a desert until this summer. I stored in my memory images of the desert in bloom. My picture astonished the woman at the art show. She had spent years in Arizona and had never had seen a desert flower. Her memory of the desert was different from mine. Her image was of barren plants, mine of waxy blossoms atop tall green cacti. She had stopped by with her memories, witnessed mine and there was a moment of connection between us. Her memories enhanced my experience of the desert as much as my photographs delighted her.

In a writing class a woman wrote these words "It is you who taught me what the color of green grass tastes like." For some reason that line resonated deep within. I reminded the writer once of the sentence she had long ago crafted and she had completely forgotten it; nor did she have an idea of what it meant. She gave me the gift of the green grass sentence to keep as my own. Funny that she wrote it and forgot. I heard it and remembered. Within the synapses of my brain the sentence sits in the midst of the maze of information stored away and triggered each time I write. My inner scribe looks for a space for the green grass sentence as if it is an important lost piece of a puzzle.

I am amazed by the creative mind, which dreams and keeps its treasures hidden within. I cannot remember for the life of me the number for my ATM card but I can remember my grandmother's phone number in 1949: 2305R. The number carefully stored in my memory as if someday I may need to call my grandmother again.

One girl wrote a rhyme in my Junior High School autograph book

"When you get old and drink tea
Burn your lip and think of me

Here I am now old and drinking tea. I still remember the blond haired girl who wrote her name in my book. We sat together on the lawn of our school. I remember her sparkling eyes, her rhyme, the warmth of that June day. I even remember the yellow organdy dress I wore, but her name, for some reason, has been forever erased.

I have a memory, held inside me like a vivid photograph, of an old woman in a purple hat, a long feather and a juicy smile. A stranger, leaving for Mexico on a train. She told me she was 93. Amazed by her zest for life, I never forgot her. She handed me a book of poetry that continues to sit on a shelf. A gift given by a stranger in a passing moment which now represents an old woman's appetite for life.

My dad made pancakes on Sunday mornings. I remember the warm sweet smell amidst his clanking of pans. I think I was 12. I knew he would die someday and I would want to remember him making pancakes and happily humming a medley of tunes. I deliberately filed away this self-selected memory which I can recall when I want to remember my dad.

The old man down the block, Joe was his name, smoked an old stogy, chewing on it until it was wet and hanging on the corner of his mouth. Every once in a while he would spit out slimy brown liquid. "Disgusting!" I thought and yet I never forgot. Each time I smell cigar smoke I remember Joe. For what reason would I remember the man down the block with his disgusting habit? Who knows?

"Never forget this moment," I said to myself, as a man with velvety soft lips kissed me for the first time. He kissed me in a way that no other man ever had or will again. I remember his gaze and the words he never spoke. I still remember what I believed lived inside his heart. When I close my eyes I can feel his kiss. The memory serves no useful purpose other than to leave me longing. I told myself to forget another man who roughly stole kisses I did not want to give. The inner scribe wrote down both memories giving them equal punctuation and importance, bringing them to my attention in random order.

Memories create an internal map. They piece together history: some held as nightmares, others as sights, smells, sounds. Some memories intrude upon life in the middle of the night. They come as visitors, persistent and unwelcome. Some are creations of the unconscious while others are as real and fresh as yesterday. Many are stories that we written with unconscious effort to make inner meaning from external events.

As I grow old I am determined to remember beauty, warm touches, lovely sunsets, my friend's laughter, the smiles of children and the taste of rich green grass. Yet, I know the truth; some images will be self selected, others will be the persistent, intrusive inner guests. Some will be as rich as that velvety kiss, or as strong as the smell of old Joe's cigar. All will become a piece of the fabric of my inner world coming forth from body/mind in dreams, poetry, snippets and images.

Photo of Cactus by Connie Robillard



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