random amnesia

Why do some things survive and not others?

Some say there’s an order to memory: you keep what’s allowed, or joyous even, and let go what screwed you up. Well, sure, I remember my wedding day – but I also remember, quite clearly, my parents’ divorce. If it was all about psychological survival, why didn’t I blank that one, along with all the other traumas of infidelity and lost love?

Or is it that we retain what’s significant, and let go what’s trivial? Why then, from my childhood, do I remember my father splitting a coconut, and my mother standing in the kitchen telling me about the days when a third of the map was coloured pink? Why not other more important things they did, loving or harsh?

Down to adulthood: friends remind of things that sound memorable, but they’re gone without a trace. For all I know, they might be making them up. Yet I still recall, vividly and for no apparent reason, stepping, in the early 1980s, out of a record shop in Oxford into the bright sunshine of the street, clutching an album that didn’t last long in my collection, and that means nothing to me today. Why?

So how do we select the bits that we represent to ourselves as us? If there is an underlying pattern, it seems an inescapable part of individual experience that it isn’t apparent. On a public scale, what is it that makes up the bits we call our civilization, our history? The dishonest will select to agenda; but for those of us who try to be fair, why those few particular fragments of papyrus that didn’t get chucked in the rubbish? The structure that didn’t get looted or eaten by the jungle, while the rest all around crumbled and went to rot? Or for the future, some random grabs of thought in a weblog, that could have been this, or could have been something else, but are here and now what they were there and then, even though the parameters have shifted…

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