I just spent this afternoon, for the first time in nearly three years, in one of my old bedrooms, on my old bed, both of which have belonged to a succession of someone-elses over time, yet the room somehow retains the same energy. Though I was fully absorbed in my freelance work, my mind, in the background and without any conscious effort, raced through its old files and kept bubbling up reminders of random things. I had these conversations here or these emotional epiphanies here or did work for this client here or had this nightmare or discovered this song or wore this perfume. In fact, I started to feel as if the “screen” between life chapters were a translucent and very permeable divider, and as if I could soon fall and drop back into a 2014 feeling if I weren’t careful to stay on the 2017 side of the day.
The brain is a fascinating thing.
I was an adult before I realized my memory was kind of unusual. I’m not like those people who can recite a whole page after you toss them just a single line of text, and there are certain things I’m more likely to remember (at all) than other things. For example, I’m horrible at remembering directions recited to me, but if I’ve been in a place once, even if just for a few hours, I will often retain a workable mental map of it for years afterwards. I also, like anyone else, forget some stuff, or even happen not to remember it in the first place. But the amount of detail that I do remember, when I remember, tends to surprise me, and it is something I feel extremely grateful for.
I could try to tell you about how memory works for me (that is, what it “looks like” inside my mind as I’m recalling something), or I could list all the ways that an eidetic memory makes certain things easier (e.g., navigating, studying, “redeeming” myself when falling asleep in class or in conversation and I can repeat dialogue back verbatim). I could even tell you about how having an eidetic memory can make me appear reeeeally socially awkward, if not stalkerish, unless I’m careful to silence what I’m thinking (“Oh, yes, even though you and I hardly ever speak, I REMEMBER you telling me that minor detail four years ago about your mom, whom I saw only once in my life!”).
… But I’ll keep this post focused on the artistic and emotional aspects of this gift for the time being!
I sometimes contemplate the chicken-and-egg question with respect to my preferred artistic medium: memoir writing. Memories ask me to write them down, and writing pulls still more of them to mind. I often remember things cinematically: facial expressions (even more, in fact, than facial features), tones of voice, gestures, postures, clothing, weather conditions, food and drinks, seating arrangements, long stretches of dialogue. This really helps with scene building in narrative, as well as with reaching back into time to find the “art” in real life — symbolic connections and meaningful parallels between events far removed in time, or bits of foreshadowing dialogue. It’s also interesting on an artistic (and even personal-growth) level in that I can often return to the same event in my mind, multiple times, and find new layers of “meaning” in it over the years, as the web of life experiences with which it connects grows richer.
Hence, I wonder, do I gravitate toward memoir because my memory works this way — or is my memory as it is because I was destined to write memoir?
Aside from its artistic “use,” I often find memory to be a restorative “place” I can retreat into, to center, to ground, to mine for meaning, or to gather warmth. In this sense, it feels like a parallel reality; the moments are still alive and happening on the other side of now (or within the now…), and I feel extremely blessed to be able to step into this and take comfort there, returning to favorite moments and reliving them in vivid detail. My best friend also mentioned once that perhaps having an eidetic memory might be part of what makes synchronicities — “signs” — seem easy to notice in my daily life; that is, the more you remember, the larger the bank of symbols and associations from which the Universe can draw to deliver its next message.
Which makes a lot of sense… but then again, fear not:
The Universe is more than capable of making SURE we remember what we need to remember, and that we get its messages. These messages are lovingly tailored to however we’ve been (so beautifully!) designed to experience the world. No eidetic memory required!
There are, to be fair, ways in which having an eidetic memory has made certain periods of my life more difficult: going through PTSD in my early-twenties or waking up to past-life memories later that same decade were a bit disorienting. I felt “defective” for the fact that my mind often tuned in, effortlessly, to old “movies” I didn’t have a conscious desire to watch. But I had a therapist who taught me to, “Whenever something comes to mind, write it down. Write it down to get it out of your head and onto the page.” (Re: unwanted memories.) This helped, so much, with healing, and taught me still more about the power of narrative to shape our experience: we get to choose whether our stories belong in a framework that is ultimately more nihilistic and painful, or more uplifting and transcendental.
Knowing how much my memory has enriched my life, to be honest, has sometimes made me fearful about my mind not always working that way. Which leads me to something I want YOU to ponder:
The way in which we think, in which we see and experience the world, is a unique gift. Not everyone thinks the same way that any of us does, or has the same exact blend of talents, passions, perceptions, and so on. We were designed as we were for a reason — perhaps even as part of our life purpose. It is up to each of us to embrace such gifts and create something beautiful with these that we could share with others.
The brain is so flexible and resourceful and plastic and resilient, but also so delicate. We don’t know that we will have our faculties, memories, way of thinking forever. And even if we have these all our lives, they are still unique gifts. And gifts are meant to be embraced, honored, and shared.
In other words, you were designed to see and experience the world through a certain filter. This filter equips you to make a very unique contribution to the world. May you always have that gift, and may you know the joy of being able to share its light with others.
What do you think is particularly unique about your mind or your way of thinking? How does it enrich your life? How can you work with it to enrich the world?