Memories and How to Use Them

I’m writing this blogpost fairly late in the day, for lack of inspiration. It is Thursday, 7pm, and I’ve failed every writing prompt there is. They all want me to recall a time where I benefited from a positive interaction with a stranger, an acorn of wisdom from secondary school, five illuminating childhood memories. My memory does not serve me well. The kind of recollections these prompts want are what I’d call franchise memories; non-individualised memories from one inseparable chunk of an entire existence, one standard block within every human life. They’re the ‘lifestyle content’ memories– perfectly customary, and perceivably meaningless.

I’m thinking I cannot lie on my back with my eyes closed and remember these sorts of things, because it feels like no part of daily life consolidates them. The memory of five year-old me picking weed flowers when we were all supposed to be playing football will surface when I’m not trying to uncover five echoes of childhood. The sorts of memories that must come into each day are what I’d call corporate memories– the obviously skill-oriented ones– the reliving of the things that inform whatever I do for a living, basic mathematics, and how to fry an egg without flipping. Though I have little memory of the day I developed those skills, they’re each like a desktop file of first-final drafts, you only ever need the most recent version. Yet, what I’m realising is that every memory, from the most meaningless to the ambiguously symbolic, are all as skill-led as the day you learnt to walk. 

Memory operates on two levels. There’s the ‘thoughtless’, unconscious life of the mind, and the intentional, problem solving side, and in their own ways, they absorb information from what occurs, store what they consider necessary, and retrieve when the moment calls for it. That’s ‘dual process’ theory. Both are led by instinctive memory retrieval, albeit, one sweats a little more than the other. But the former began as the latter. The unconscious side mastered the day-to-day assignments that had the purpose of “reinforcing fact retention, and then applying those facts critically and creatively”; recalling memories and applying them in foreign, strained scenarios.

What if one of those assignments concerned your identity, why you just did what you did, and the urge you now have to understand the behaviour? Then one of the memories I myself may recall would be the one from 20 years ago– me sitting in the middle of the football pitch, picking my flowers in P.E, entirely disengaged. I might’ve just done whatever I just did because I’m susceptible to detachment, inwardness, and a degree of self-absorption at the expense of others. That is my origin story– the earliest memory I have of a personality trait that explains a lot and affects things daily. That assignment that forced me to recall and engage with a seemingly flimsy, indistinct memory reaffirmed a fact; applying it creatively would be introducing some self-awareness, some dialling back on the inwardness where need be.

These kinds of memories are in there somewhere. Your mind recollects them at the most insignificant of times, and sometimes that itself causes you to hide it in your fist, waiting for the moment where it reaches a full circle. Some bits of life hold little meaning, but thankfully the brain is not full of these, it only has those other ones. It anticipates life’s assignments to make plain the symbolism. When we’re evaluating the traditionally skill-oriented memories, and the repetitiveness that causes them to stay on the tongue’s tip, it’s easy to overlook the kind of daily assignments that my flower-picking is rooted in. A teacher seeks to broaden a student’s capacity for learning by knowing exactly when to introduce a new concept, and how to time tasks to supplement the relationship between fact retention and creative problem-solving. We see in hindsight that the scheduling of assignments is without a hair’s width of error. Life’s assignments– too perfect, too custom made for haphazard coincidence.

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