The memory makers + the memory takers

memory makers and memory takers

Hanging out with one of my best friends in the whole entire world last weekend made me realise something.

I have a terrible memory.

My friend recalls details about my past I have no recollection of. She remembers the details of my 20th birthday – who stayed where and what we did. My memory of the day is sparse.

She remembers every little aspect of our trip to India together. Of when we first met. Of studying together.

I am so grateful to have a friend who also doubles as a memory bank, and only wish I had met her when I was five. Or earlier, preferably.

As I sort through the debris of my memory, there are icons that stand out.

From my childhood, it’s my special imagination olive tree, where I spent days cooped up in its branches. I remember the barren paddocks. The kangaroos on dusk. I remember being followed by our old German Shepard, Sammy, as we walked through the scrub.

Through my adult years, the particularly traumatic, or the particularly emotional moments are the memorable ones. Any occasions coupled with alcohol are vague wisps of something reminiscent of memory.

Memories are so important, aren’t they? Aren’t they – us? We are but a sum of our memories.

I think about this a lot in relation to my kids. What memories are we making for them? Each little day, piled on another day. Those moments, cutting out paper on the kitchen floor, or swinging in the hammock, or playing in the sand…this collection of moments in time. Which ones will stick? Hopefully the good ones?

As I take my phone out to snap a particularly important moment – a lost tooth – for instance, I think about this process of memory keeping. If I take a photo on my phone, am I purchasing insurance for my memory of that moment – or my child’s memory?

When I need to remember something in particular, I write it down. Even if I never read the note again, the act of writing helps commit the memory. Is it the same with taking photos?

Maybe. Maybe not. There are a million photos stacked on my hard drive, and in books, and on my computer. My husband thinks it’s ludicrous. I will never ever get to look at all those photos surely. But I haven’t the heart to delete them. I have to keep them. This bank of memories. It’s much more reliable than my own sieve.

I wonder sometimes whether the act of taking the photo itself diminishes my ability to simply remember the moment.

When we travelled when Elka was about two, I was walking back down the mountain, and she was running towards me. The joy on her face, and the childish enthusiasm of her run made me want to snap a picture. I did. And she immediately turned on her heel, and ran away from me. It was like popping a bubble. The moment evaporated with the click of my camera.

Lately, I find my memory’s worse than usual. And the reason why is obvious. There is so so much to remember.

I don’t mean commitments, or appointments etc. I remember those things quite easily.

I am busy, yes, with preparing for the launch of my book, and the other things on my plate. But it’s more than that.

We are flooded constantly with potential stimulus for memory. Each time I scroll through social media, the list of things I could potentially remember exponentially grows. And grows.

Trawling social media feels a little like using a metal detector on the beach. We look and look, and wait for something to stick. And at last the beep goes off, and that particularly cute image of a cat wearing glasses glues.

And the minefield of visual information is competing with the actual stuff in my life I should be remembering.

Like that wonderfully cute and hilarious thing Rosie said the other day. What was it again, that made us crack up so much? I have no idea. I swear to myself I need to write those comments and quotes down when they happen – not later, because later they are definitely forgotten.

I wonder what all these images, and all this information will do to our collective future memory. Will it be sharper, as we expose ourselves to more? Or will it diminish, as we rely more and more on technologies to remember things for us? {Phone numbers. Calendar dates. Passwords…} Maybe there’s just not enough space in our tiny human brains to handle the vast amount of material coming our way.

So, this week, I am conscious about where I place my attention. I am going to aim to place it carefully on things that matter. Precious moments with my children. A beautiful children’s book. I am going to gaze into that moment, and let it gel. Then, when it has settled, I’ll break my gaze and carry on.

And I really should remember to write that stuff down. And take a photo.

How’s your memory? And how do you make it better?

  • LydiaCLee

    My memory is shocking. I read somewhere that when we remember,we aren’t remembering the event itself, but the last time we remembered it, and that’s how they change, and some grow weaker than others….

    • Yes, that’s pretty true. I studied memory when doing psychology, and that’s one of the things they talked about. Most of my episodic memories are based on photos – or remembering the event.

  • What a lovely reflection. I have a terrible memory, and rely heavily on my husband to remember most things about the kids for me, mostly me head is filled with our schedule and the children’s schedules. I must make a note to remember more, to take more time to cement the moments in my memory bank before moving on. Thank you xx

  • Such a thought provoking post Zanni. I take photos and always print them out. Not all of them, but a lot. We have about 16 photo albums that we keep in the lounge room. Having them so close is wonderful. I often find myself and the kids looking through and remembering, laughing. It’s lovely. But I also try not to capture everything on film. I think sometimes it’s the memories we don’t try to preserve that are the ones that stick.

  • I’m guilty of snapping photos instead of being in the moment because I want to preserve the experience, the memory. This is very thought provoking.

  • I used to have THE BEST MEMORY! I was the one that remembered what everyone wore at a party 25 years ago, who was there, what we drank, who ended up with who. Then something happened. I can’t even remember what happened last week! I think perhaps we just get lazy with technology and stuff that we no longer train our brain to retain. Like what I did there?

  • Great post… I also have a terrible memory. I like to think it’s because I moved around so much as a child that I don’t have clear childhood memories but not sure what I can blame my poor adult memory on. Possibly the over-consumption of red wine! I do think photos help remind us of things but sometimes I look back on photos of myself as a child that bring back memories and I’m wondering if it’s the photo or the true memory I’m recalling. As you say, I think living in the moment and being aware goes a long way into helping to cement things in our minds. (But then again, if we’re always living in the moment, I guess we would have no need for memories, eh?!)

  • I was just telling my friend I think I have the early onset of dementia 😉 She has an excellent memory, just like your friend, but I’m seriously lacking in that department. I’m guilty of snapping away and not enjoying the moment too. Great post x

  • I try to hoard memories. Missing out on the first 12/9 months of our kids lives, with few pictures to tell their stories, has made me want to hoard hard. Then when we got broken into while living in Canada and my laptop, camera and video camera were stolen and I lost so many photographs I was devastated – I had to remind myself that I still had the memories of Little Yangs first steps and the video replay in my mind of meeting him for the first time (if not the video). If you haven’t seen the Disney Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’ you should – I think it is a wonderful movie about memory making and what counts.

  • This really resonated with me Zanni, because I forget a lot, and I wish I didn’t. My youngest turns five next week, and I can barely remember the first year of her life because of PND, and sometimes the guilt of that eats at me. I just need to focus on these days, and making memories. Not just doing what needs to be done.

  • We are so the same! Even the way we tackle our silly memories is identical. I am a notebook fiend because ‘in one ear and out the other’. I even rely on Bart to tell me what happened in our kids’ babyhoods which are pretty recent when you think about it!! Just GONE, poof! x

  • Hugzilla

    Oh my god, yes. This is me. My dreadful memory is the stuff of much great mirth to my husband. I regret forgetting so much great stuff from my youth, but am equally terrible at documenting it! I should probably start incorporating some of the important stuff into my blog. At least that way it’s there!

  • My memory is failing me with each passing day! Maybe I am cramming too much in and it cannot possibly fit? Maybe it is motherhood and a failing memory comes with the sleep deprivation? I need a notebook at all times and at least once a day I stop and realise “Oh no I have forgotten something” then spend ages trying to remember what it is!

  • I am a notebook kind of gal through and through.. the only problem is I have multiple notebooks that I really need to condense into one but then I have a weakness for writing in cute notebooks and cute notebooks in general and so um I am doomed to having my memories scattered through multiple notebooks lol xx

  • Such a lovely post. It’s so hard to cram in everything we want to remember, and to try and make space and remove things we might not need to hold onto, isn’t it? My memory spans back a fair whack, but I worry about losing memories of my kids as they grow so fast. I have a memory for random things, but just don’t ask me what we needed to pick up from the shops on the way home! 🙂

  • My memory is a little shot. I am the same with photos. I have so many and can’t delete them because they are my memories. Really I should at least sort through them and organise those memories so I can retrieve them when needed.

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  • My memory is okay but getting less so as time goes on. I am forever annoyed at myself for not writing things down. But how many things are we supposed to remember? Do we need to record every funny thing our kids do or say? Maybe having lived the moment is enough because surely, like hard-drives overflowing with photos, there comes a point when we have recorded more than we will ever have time to go back through.

    When I am old and my hair is white as snow, I am sure I will cherish those moments I did record. But I don’t want to spend my twilight years just simply recalling days gone by. I hope I’ll be busy making new memories – maybe for my grandkids to tell their kids some day. xx

    • That’s so spot on and so well said. Yes! Just going to relax about this whole thing now 🙂 xx