An Old Shoebox

Private Conversation (1898) by Felix Vallotton

Private Conversation (1898) by Felix Vallotton

7 November 2013
12:49 AM


An argument I’ve had last week was rooted in memory. My mother swore by what she remembers, and even enlisted routine as back-up. It has always been this way, she says. Every November 1st, it has always been this way. My sisters and I, meanwhile, remembered something else. For a while though, we were also unsure, because routine speaks of a course of events that repeat themselves, doesn’t it? It has logic.

That’s when I thought to rummage through my old journals, see if I can find a note, an entry, anything that would tell me that I’m not making this up. I could hear you in my head: “The mind deceives us sometimes.” I think you told me that, in another letter, an old one. Or something along those lines. I look at dates for two separate years. Compare notes. Felt relieved. Felt that the recorded data is much better. Solid.

In the third drawer of my filing cabinet, I keep an old shoebox labeled, “memories, letters”.  Some of its contents:

  • Two ice cream cup covers (No. 5 Belgium Noisette Chocolat and No. 11 Pannacotta Mixed Berry)
  • An exam permit from my sophomore year in college
  • Gift wrapping paper from Straffan Antique and Design Centre
  • An origami heart with my name on it
  • An ID from a coffee farm tour
  • A diskette containing files for my very first website
  • Movie tickets
  • A yellow ribbon

Sometimes I wonder if I mistake my imagination for my memory. Or if I mistake someone else’s memory for mine. Has that ever happened to you?

Here’s an interesting read from The New York Review:

I accepted that I must have forgotten or lost a great deal, but assumed that the memories I did have—especially those that were very vivid, concrete, and circumstantial—were essentially valid and reliable; and it was a shock to me when I found that some of them were not.

It is startling to realize that some of our most cherished memories may never have happened—or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that many of my enthusiasms and impulses, which seem entirely my own, have arisen from others’ suggestions, which have powerfully influenced me, consciously or unconsciously, and then been forgotten.

– Oliver Sacks, from Speak, Memory

This morning I was thinking that memory is a place. Alain de Botton said, “Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.”

I am a dog, digging for bones, sniffing out all the places where I have hidden them.



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