There Are No Little Things 8: The Tasting
Start of January 23 Column. More or Less Continuous News Service since 1998

The Nature of Memory

(Length warning)

A long-time friend of mine suffered a series of small strokes that shut down portions of his brain. He can no longer create visual images. He suggested “You would be surprised as to how many memories are keyed to images.”

I can empathize. In the last few years brain spasms have given me a form of temporary global amnesia.  For a period of somewhere between minutes and hours, TGA means you lose your ability to form new memories. You end up repeating yourself and asking the same questions over and over. When you come out of it (somewhere between minutes and hours if you are as lucky as I was), you remember nothing that happened during the TGA. I was in the hospital the first time, and had NO memory of getting there. I was surprised I wasn’t at home in my chair.

What he told me was amazing. In 40 years of mining my memory for writing, I had never considered the visual nature of memory. Looking back on it, my memories (painful and lovely) are based on visual recollection. I am blessed with the ability to write about them, but the words don’t capture everything, and I neither have photographs nor the artistic ability to draw them.

Some of my memories have been triggered by the written word. Recently, reading a journal from a  half-century ago, I instantly relived the emotions of a deeply painful moment. Later that same day, I realized I could see the whole thing in my mind’s eye, from beginning to end. Some parts didn’t agree with the written word, but frankly, now that I think about it, I trust the visual because it is more vivid than the textual.

I know odors are a powerful memory trigger; now I know visual images are too. I will never think of memory the same way again.


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