A couple of evenings ago I had one of “those-nights.” You know the kind. You wake up after a few hours of having had just enough sleep to take the edge off your tired and then its eyes wide open and mind racing.
For 45 minutes I lay there telling myself how tired I was going to be if I didn’t fall back to sleep, soon. So I quietly got up, didn’t want to interrupt my husband’s gentle snoring, and turned on the TV.
Really, really late TV is an odd mix of self-help, food prep and murder. For three easy payments of $129.99 I could purchase a machine that would tone my butt and flatten my tummy. Switch channels and for the same payment plan I could receive an amazing countertop cooker that does everything from roast chicken and dry fruit, to probably wash my dishes and do my taxes. And there was a creepy episode of Investigative ID. That night I wasn’t into a late night viewing of how victims become victims and why perpetrators become perpetrators. So I continued to flip through the stations until I happened upon a program about memory.
I always thought that our memories are like a huge library, checking in and storing volumes of reminiscences, some readily accessible and some not quite. The not so important ones I thought are stored way back in the corners, where it’s dark, dusty, like piles of old magazines half rotten and forgotten.
“Not so,” the program said. (If I remember correctly.) The shelves are certainly full and the memories in place, it’s the pathways to them, the synapses, which are lacking.
While my digital clock flashed numbers beginning with three, I was hoping to learn why I can so easily recall almost every minute of November 22, 1963, during algebra, the last class of my school day. I remember almost all interactions with fellow students, teachers and with the bus drivers who had radios blaring out their open doors so we could hear the awful news. And yet, unless there are leftovers, I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night. The program outlined why.
The significance of recalling a traumatic national event builds strong pathways, because we revisit it so often. Each time I think about JFK’s assassination, new synapses grow, like add-ons, to reinforce and amplify the experience. It’s the same with significant events in our own lives like births, deaths, accidents, a new home, new puppy, new car and the awful case of the flu I had over 35 years ago which got me to quit smoking.
The program went on to explain how the frequent recalling of certain memories tends to actually build new memories, real or not, among the old. Which means my first kiss, with tall, dark and handsome Jack, while skating on a frozen pond in New Jersey, surrounded by a romantic crystallized wonderland of ice covered branches, was actually an awkward lip-smack while walking on frozen swamp ice in the backyard, with Jack, the pimply faced kid next door.
Memory is funny that way, it can romanticize or negate what actually happened. Don’t take my word for it though, it was late and I was getting sleepy again. Oh yeah, meatloaf, we had meatloaf.
Even if up late, Carolynn never needs an alarm clock to wake up on time. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org