Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Clean House and Memory Inventory

Every Wednesday for the past few weeks, I've posted what I call a memory inventory.  I'm doing this because, like many people, have been holding on to stuff for purely sentimental reasons.  The material objects that travel with us through life call to mind and make memories, feelings and even physical sensation present for us over and over again.  They also clutter up our closets, junk up our dresser drawers, and make it difficult to find room for new stuff - new memories.

I have never considered myself to be very sentimental.  Even back in middle school, I would periodically go through my desk drawers and toss out old drawings, awards, papers, and so forth just to have the feeling of accomplishment that comes when you clean out a junky drawer to reveal space to put more junk!  Nevertheless, I now occupy a small apartment in the District of Columbia and there are things I have here with me that have followed me to all seven of the places I've lived since graduating from the University of Virginia in 1999.  For someone who does not consider himself very sentimental, that doesn't make a lot of sense.

So I decided to apply a little reason to the problem.  I came to the conclusion, that I keep these things around as a means to remember the times, places, people, and emotions to which they refer.  The television show Clean House would tell me that a memory is not contained in any thing, and therefore getting rid of these things is not getting rid of the memory.  But Clean House doesn't mention how the human mind forms and maintains memories.  Memories are, over-simply speaking, systems of biochemical pathways which become fixed in the physical structures of our brains.  They are a physical reality.  Every time you access a memory, some sort of biochemical electric process occurs that actually strengthens that physical structure.  If we don't remember something often enough, those biochemical neural connections weaken.  They may eventually break down entirely.  If looking at, handling, or smelling some thing causes us to remember some past event or person, that thing is a means to actually strengthening and preserving that memory.  These things I have kept for the past 10 - 15 years or longer are actually fixing the memories to which they refer more strongly in my mind.  If I simply get rid of them, I truly do risk losing those memories forever.  At the very least, I will impair my ability to access them.

At the same time, I do not want to carry this stuff around with me for the rest of my life.  So, I have decided that the best way for me to keep my memories and get rid of the stuff cluttering up my closet is to write the memories down on this blog and get rid of the thing itself.  The memory is what I want to keep, not the thing.  The internet never forgets.  Even now I can look back at things I wrote back in 2005 and feel what I felt then; I remember where I was and what I was doing.  Some of you who read this may be family and friends.  Maybe you gave me something special that I have had to get rid of and write about.  Keep in mind that the thing is not a relationship any more than it is a memory, and when I get rid of the thing, I also fondly recall our relationship and the memories we share. 

I'm going to continue going through my stuff and making a permanent record of my memories.  Writing memories down actually strengthens those neural pathways too - often more strongly.  I hope you don't mind taking a look through this window on my life from time to time.  At the very least, I know I am enjoying the view.

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