05 December 2013

Back...and Forth

Ebb and Flow   Photographer:  Matt Tilghman
I read somewhere recently that scientists are still in search of answers to why we remember, the biological imperatives for memory, a complete organic and chemical mapping of the process of remembering. Under different circumstances and provided appropriate prompts, I might have joined their ranks and made the investigation my life's work. Memory has intrigued me for a very long time.

It is fascinating, for example, how a perfectly lovely day can be negatively impacted by the sight of a woman wearing a dress like one my 2nd grade teacher wore on the day of some classroom crisis, an event that slept unobserved in my mind for decades. Where is such a memory stored in the mind and why is it stored? Why don't we remember everything? Or do we, in fact, remember everything but only have access to particular memories?

"Ebb and Flow #8 (from the Ebb and Flow series). Drawing. Artist:  Doug Russell
Over Thanksgiving, in my sister G______'s Tallahassee home, my pulse and breathing commenced the rhythms of anguish as I noticed the photographs scattered throughout the house on walls and bookshelves:  various groupings of my mother and siblings and grandmother, shot in an array of locations and events. I do not appear in any of them. Looking at the photos, memories were evoked although the pictures depict times and spaces I  never visited, Memory and emotion swirled and swelled with enough force to affect my heart rate and bring tears to my eyes.

I stood alone before these images and felt the loneliness and yearning of a lifetime, while echoes of voices and music clamored and collided in my mind's ear.

Several large cardboard boxes sit in my sister's dining room. They contain photographs and other memorabilia from my mother and maternal grandmother's lives. By G____'s report, the boxes have been largely untouched since they were deposited in their place against the wall. The project to sort and distribute these sentimental artifacts has not advanced. "Oh, you go ahead and take care of it," has been the response of visiting family members.

A motivation for my Thanksgiving visit this year -- my first visit in almost 8 years -- was to assist in the sort-and-distribute project. With quickened pulse and trembling hands, I jumped in on Day Two. As I worked, it occurred to me:  perhaps in my position/role as "outsider" I have an fortitude that makes the task less painful than it is for the "insiders." Or, my pain is of a different kind.

There are few things I enjoy more than standing smack dab in the middle of a jumbled mess and being charged with creating order. As I worked, my fondness for organization would rule...and then be obliterated by a flood of heartache and memory....then rise again and fill me with pleasure and inspiration as the design of workable system emerged. What drives that fluctuating flow? Instantaneously, gripped by a wave of heartache, I lost the sharp focus and bright-burning creative energy that moments before had my fingers flying on the keyboard as I entered data into my spreadsheet. I felt heavy, my hands lay thick and lifeless in my lap. I stared at the photographs...into the eyes of people who love me but would rather not be around me.

In the present moment -- the here and now where I am real, where I have body and mind -- contemplating "back then" -- photographed worlds where I do not appear, existing only as a memory in the minds of the people who do appear, my vitality is sacrificed when painful remembering surges.

I want my vitality. How to not remember....  Or how to become stronger than Memory.