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  • Writer's pictureSiria Contreras

If My Memory Serves Me Right

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”

Steven Wright

Ironically enough, I don’t know who comedian Steven Wright is, but I recalled his quote well enough to track it down via key words as a thought had been on my mind off and on for a few days. How are minds are so powerful, yet our memories can often be quite distorted or skewed influenced by how we felt about someone or something or how we want to feel about someone or something.

There are very serious neurological disorders that can impair our memory like Alzheimers, dementia, etc. but that aside quite often we remember what we want to, what makes us happy, or what has had a great impact or trauma on us–although, the traumatic or negative many of us will often repress.

A few weekends ago, I had a “scary and suspense” movie marathon with my niece, three “...Conjurings”, one “Annabelle”, one “Attic Dolls” later, but pre-one “Megan,” we landed on “Before I Wake” a 2016 meh-movie starring Kate Bosworth and Thomas Jane (plus a brief appearance from one of my fave 90’s actresses Annabeth Gish).

The plot centered around a young boy, who, being in the foster-care system, had been placed in various homes all of which encountered his “dark” secret. Sleep was a rare luxury that the boy tried not to afford himself for fear of what could occur–taking pills to stay awake or resorting to other measures for when he slept he had tremendous powers. As he slept, he had the power of making his dreams a reality within the home where he was staying–dreams that would manifest themselves into beautiful wonders for the perplexed foster parents to take in and interpret. Yet, just like his dreams could become a reality so could his nightmares and well…as with any nightmares bad dreams would occur until he would awaken. Yet, oftentime he could not awaken in time for the terrible things to be prevented. Among these terrible things were the “vanishings” of a foster parent leaving no way to find them and bring them back to life.

<<Spoiler Alert>> Fast forward towards the end and it turns out that the boy can bring back the missing people, but he has to dream them back to existence. Unfortunately, there is one problem which is that although the missing do return in a physical form, they only return as the boy remembers them. Instead of a full human being with all of their facial quality, expressions, traits, etc. they return almost as abstract versions of themselves–perhaps not quite Kadinsky works, but also not even remotely close to themselves. The hair color, height, skin tone all accurate yet as if describing to a police sketch artist, “he had a nose and eyes and hair” but not specifying the details, i.e. size, texture, etc.

This made me think of how faulty our memories are. I have a very strong memory for some things, most of the time I just need to hear a song once and I’ll know the lyrics mid-way through and will likely remember them for the rest of my life. I’m made fun of sometimes as I can recall what I was wearing on almost any day dating back to childhood, even if it takes me a little bit to recall some of the less eventful days I can usually do it. Some things I can remember so clearly and in detail, certain people, past pets, cars, outfits, books, photographs, etc.

Yet, if I’ve only met you once or haven’t seen you in a long time, I may not recognize you if we run into each other or are in the same place at the same time until I hear your voice. It’s safe to say that I’m rarely ignoring anyone, I just honestly perhaps did not recognize you or even more likely I probably did not spot you. There is a 90% chance that you will almost always spot me well before I spot you unless I am meeting you somewhere and am purposely looking for you.

Then there is the subject of people who are no longer in our lives like ex-partners, it is often said that our memory betrays us as we only tend to remember the good and push away the bad, but the truth is that each person is both the positive and the negative. No relationship is ever sunshine and roses one hundred percent of the time, and never as rosy as our thoughts might ask us to believe. It’s why typically when you bring up an ex, your friends may quickly chime in with “you miss that?”, “you can do much better” and you might answer “I don’t want better.” But in truth, you should want better for yourself.

What we miss is the familiar, the habits we’d created, the sharing of intimacy and trust with another. It’s rarely the actual person that we long to bring back as it might be how that person sometimes made us feel. Sometimes it’s just the security blanket effect–as with that person gone then that means that you need to start over or create that with a new person and everyone knows that sometimes new shoes are not always comfortable, but we couldn’t go on with the old pair any longer. The soles had worn thin. Sometimes with humans it’s the same, “a soul has worn thin.” No longer are paths aligned and what was once easy is no longer.

The Guy de Maupassant quote, comes to mind, “our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”

Our memories of these people who in the past took up significant space in our lives are just like that boy’s memories, abstract renderings--shapes that we attach whatever we need to to them, the good ones perhaps the dreams surrealism and Magrittes at their best are made of. Not dissimilar to the AI photographs being generated and shared of “people” with their pets, families, attractive men and women, etc. AI can create these based off of our instruction, our preferences making for great artistic experiments but lacking the life that you see in a photograph of a real moment.

One day, we’ll perhaps have to live with clones of ourselves (I really could’ve used one in my 20’s and 30’s and would still take one now). Maybe not in our lifetime, but in our grandchildren’s lifetime or sooner–the technology and genome intelligence is out there, but the world doesn’t need to go from 8 Billion to 16 Billion just yet.

Will they be realistic clones? Or will we drive the data/characteristics that end up on our doppelgangers and will they look just like us or will they be interpretations of ourselves and perhaps how we see ourselves or how others interpret or recall us? Perhaps we might be best off having a blind artist create these new interpretations of ourselves so that at the very least they still get some of our important inner-strengths and virtues.

If my memory serves me right…famous last words.


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