Have you ever run an upgrade or put on a new app on your phone only to discover that it has had the opposite effect? That in fact, maddeningly, it has served to downgrade your device, which now runs more slowly and presents you with messages such as, ‘insufficient storage’ when you try to take photographs. It’s frustrating. At least, though, one can genuinely upgrade electronics by getting a brand new phone, or tablet, or whatever it is that is beginning to falter. Upgrading our own memory bank, and creating more storage space for personal recollections, well – that is quite a different matter. Lately, (maybe it’s that time of year, the reminiscences one shares over New Year) old stories have been recounted to me that I’ve very little memory of. I’m afraid I might have reached my own point of ‘insufficient storage’ and I’m figuring out how to run an upgrade on my own memory. Some school friends shared a photograph on whatsapp taken, circa 1985, when they all looked like backing singers about to rock ‘Love in The First Degree’ for Bananarama or get ‘Into The Groove’ with Madonna. Big hair sprayed with enough Silvikrin to withstand Hurricane Katrina, chandelier ear-rings, re-fashioned men’s waistcoats and jackets – bring back the ‘New Romantic’ scene of the eighties, because I think I missed it the first time around! The thing is, I have only the faintest recollection of them ever looking like that, so why are some memories etched deep in basalt, when others are faint outlines in soft sand, apt to blow away to nothing?
People repeat clichés such as, ‘life is short’ or, ‘the years go by in the blink of an eye’, but I have always contested these recycled platitudes. I think life is long and full and rich – and I think this even though I probably only remember about half of what has gone on and what I’ve done. Could it be a case of having so many experiences in one’s life that there simply isn’t enough space to store, hold onto and remember it all? Take the gathering I was at last night, I want to remember the mix of songs that were sung: Leaboy’s Lassie, The Four Marys, The Skye Boat Song. I want to remember how the room fell so quiet as we listened to A. reciting a poem from home, introducing us all to the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls”
I want to remember walking home through deserted streets – clearly the doctor had ordered the city a night of bed-rest after the frenetic burnout of New Year’s Eve. I want to remember passing the kilt-wearing man on St. Mary’s Street with tips on his brogues that clicked on the cobbles as he strode. I want to remember that Italian gent on Cannongate speaking loudly in his lilting language into ear phones, smoking a cigar, and giving me an exaggerated nod with friendly eyes: good evening, safe home, happy near year – at least that’s how I interpreted his look.
So how can I solve my ‘insufficient storage’ conundrum and create a cache of memories that don’t dissolve like a bag of sugar left out in the rain? I can take photographs and write things down – both of which I do. I suspect, though, that the trick is just to fully be wherever you are, slow down and bathe in the moment: watch and listen and appreciate. And if the mental images slip away, sure isn’t that ok? Someone will tell a story or put an image up on whatsapp and the memories might slowly return and add to the growing patchwork.