This month, I’m writing words and posting images relating to the landscape of memory. I hope to write poems most days and also share photos, quotes, and more prosaic thoughts related in some way to memory, nostalgia, longing for place, remembering and forgetting, landscape, dreamscape, landscape’s memory and memory’s landscape, the intersection of the layered historical physical world with personal memory, the frames that both landscape and memory use to contain and order our focus, the landscape of childhood, the landscape of devastation, how memories lie and tell the truth, the fragmentation of memory, how landscapes shape us and our memories, and so on. All the posts will be linked to the Introductory Page as they are posted. Thanks for visiting.
Today, a brief musing on memory and associations.
I wonder if other people experience this: I’m aware of performing an activity and automatically flashing on what seems a rather random image, memory, or thought during that activity, the same activity matched with the same association, day after day. These are the same activities paired, completely unintentionally, with the same image, memory, or thought, over and over again. Obviously something’s gone haywire with associative learning in my hippocampus, and it’s also clear that I’ve worn a sort of memory groove in my brain and that more meditation would be a big help for me in addressing habituation. The persistence of these useless associations is interesting to me, but even more so why these images, thoughts, and memories came to be associated with the activity in the first place.
For instance, when I am cutting up food for dinner prep, 80% of the time I have an image of David Suchet playing the character of Hercule Poirot in his kitchen, wearing an apron, preparing a meal for himself, Japp, and Hastings, as seen in one of the BBC Poirot episodes. That makes a bit of sense, since the activities are much the same, but my memory bank must have hundreds of other images of people prepping food for a meal and I never flash on those. (In fact, looking online I can’t find the episode where we see Poirot wearing an apron and prepping dinner in the kitchen, and I checked “The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim” or “Hickory Dickory Dock,” where he definitely serves dinner in his apartment; maybe I created that scene in my mind?)
Another example: When I blow-dry my hair, I invariably think about, or flash on an image of, dining at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont, which I have done, though not in years and never while blow-drying my hair. I don’t think about eating at Simon Pearce at any other time. How did those two things come to be associated in my mind, and so firmly?
A final oddity: When I work out on a mat at home, which I do four or more days each week, 90% of the time I get an image of one of my spouse’s cousins (someone I barely know) at her work in Longwood Garden’s water lily pools. I’ve seen her there once or twice, years ago, but I don’t think the image that appears in my mind even matches my real experience then. I’m not even sure whether it’s an image or a thought, it’s so fleeting. And yet persistent over time. I have no idea why I flash on the image/thought of her while working out, but of course now that I’ve done it dozens or hundreds of times, I’m liable to continue making this association for the rest of my natural life.
I’ve got more of these but I’l stop here. Do other people have fleeting images, thoughts, or memories flash into their minds every time they perform certain activities, and are they perplexingly unrelated to the activity? And do they persist over time?
Sometimes I wonder if there was a bridge, some kind of original connection that occurred once — to make me think of Poirot while cutting up carrots and peppers, or my cousin-in-law and/or waterlilies while working out, or Simon Pearce and my hair — that for some reason became entrenched but that I can’t remember any more, a sort of catalyst that dropped out of the chemical reaction after causing the effect.
I know that I also have a place memory that’s very strong, much stronger than my “regular” memory. When I revisit a particular place, especially an outside place, even one I’ve experienced only once and don’t have a conscious mental map of, I frequently get a strong feeling as I move through it, recalling what I saw, smelled, heard, or felt there before. I remember specific plants that were blooming, something that happened in a particular spot, what lies ahead of that curve, and so on. Place (and smell) seem to trigger my memory and associations most strongly.
All this to say that what we choose, consciously or not, to remember, and how we associate the phenomena we encounter in our lives, how we make mental connections and forge meaning, and how these associations persist even when they are of no practical use (any use?) to us, is just plain strange and inexplicable sometimes. I kind of like it like that.
Featured image: terrace dining at Simon Pearce, Quechee, VT, May 2010