Tag Archives: memory hoarding

hoard sorter

Chained to my computer today while I revise an article under a tight deadline and desperate for distractions, I just had an epiphany about my research. I have been working on the concept of hoarded memory of the Algerian War for a few years already and I’ve been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testimonial and pictorial debris I have to sift through. Often it is one author who produces an excessive number of volumes about his or her past.

Why does it only occur to me now that I have been trained for this my whole life? I am trying to make sense out of that layered, piled up story of a traumatic past, just like I have always been sifting through my dad’s stuff to reorder it, to pare it down, to make it accessible to those who live with him. There is some good stuff in his metaphorical curio cabinet, but it is getting destroyed and obscured as more is layered upon it.

memory hoarding with Sebbar

I’m working on a presentation on Algerian-born author Leïla Sebbar and how she may be using her collections as a source of memory hoarding. Certain objects recur in many of her texts such as postcards of the Odalisque, Parker pens, Singer sewing machines, and so on. I just read today on a French culture (www.evene.fr) site that she collects tobacco boxes because they represent a generational gap: “les pères algériens chiquaient, leurs fils fument des cigarettes” (‘Algerian fathers chewed, their sons smoke cigarettes.’)

In Sebbar’s 2004 book Mes Algéries en France (My Algerias in France), she presents other visual collections that I can imagine pinned on the walls of her office or in front of her in her work space. (She photographs the snuff boxes for this book.) When I opened the book today to take a few snapshots of her pages, a few of my own collected trinkets fell out: a used iTunes gift card, a makeshift bookmark leftover from a Target ad, and a promotional card from Delta with “Destination Paris” complete with Eiffel Tower facts on the back. Sebbar is so easy to judge, yet I obviously have a soft spot for her object fetishes.

uncertain hoarding moments

Now that our departure is likely delayed for a few months, I’m a bit stalled with the project of this blog. I was at the point of beginning the serious removal of things and sifting through the real items of importance, including books or clothes that I’m not quite sure about. Today, as I started a new research project, I dipped into a packed up box and pulled out two theory books I wasn’t expecting to need. I also have a mental list of items in my campus office that have to come home to help me.

In addition to the physical aspect of hoarding and my current uncertainty, there is the parallel activity of memory hoarding that occurs. I was beginning to feel emotional about experiences that I thought were the “last time for a long time” such as our university’s pathetic bowl game that had me momentarily choked up. This, too, has gently subsided as I float along uncertain about the next few months.

from Elisabeth Fechner, Souvenirs d'Alger

This reminds me of a literary snippet that I cannot immediately locate in which the author, Marie Cardinal, complains (paraphrased in English here), “Had I known this was the last time I would see that beautiful port, and that sun on that sea from that angle, I would have soaked it up and treasured it.” Instead, she felt robbed of that memory because she left her homeland when it was still rather peaceful, fully expecting she would return. Then when (an expected) calamity struck, she was cut off for about twenty years, forced to remember her homeland and painstakingly recreate it in her writing. Cardinal was most definitely a memory hoarder who obsessively rewrote Algeria. I wonder if I might someday nostalgically rewrite my home or if my sense of home is sufficiently destabilized to keep my nostalgia at bay.

saving for never

In the covered up bin at the bottom of this neatly folded pile are several linens that have always been “too good” for me to use or saved for a special occasion. I can’t quite part with them and I can’t bear the thought of ruining them through use. I know there are pieces that a great-grandmother hand stitched and some Senegalese dyed cotton floating or pressed in there somewhere. Always saving them for later.

In reading about memory hoarding today, I found the ocdreflections blog in which the author expounds on her process of coming to the present. She (or maybe he?) writes, “I am constantly waiting for the future, and yet the future nears, arrives, and then passes me by and I am still standing there waiting in vain for it to suddenly appear.”

Too many of my items are “saved for later,” and it is true that later almost never comes. Ocdreflections explains her delayed gratification, “I’m hoarding up life’s moments to make sure I have what I want in the future, but the future keeps coming, and instead of taking pleasure in it as it occurs, I am still too busy planning for an even more distant future to enjoy the moment at that time.”

The future is ever displaced and slips behind us before we can embrace it. My type of saving for later does not have nefarious effects on my lifestyle, but too often the saved up goodies become destroyed before they are ready to be used. This has been happening since my first grade attempt to hoard candy for a “party” celebrated with my brother and best friend with stale sweets until yesterday when I uncorked two bottles of very good wine that were growing moldy on the outside. Fortunately the contents were still good enough to give thanks.

reviewing the past

Yesterday I began to upload footage shot on mini-DV cassettes in 2005 and 2006 onto my computer. The most important parts, or at least what I remembered being there, were from a trip to Senegal in 2005.

Confronted with the images from my past, I first felt twinges of nostalgia for countries where I’ve had both love and joy. The shaking of my unprofessional hand, and the spinning images taken from inside a car as we drove by a baobab forest, however, left me somewhat nauseated. I had attempted to capture every moment, so as not to forget. Hoarding memory. What I remember of Senegal is quite different than what I see on that film.

And then the camera turned on me in a very long scene chronicling family visitation in the hospital after my nephew’s birth. My discomfort and pleasure holding the infant was apparent on my face and in my voice. It pained me to watch myself look up at the cameraman, my ex-husband, to ask him to take a picture. I saw how I looked at him like a child who needed to be ordered around. I saw in that brief moment the child we did not have together, that I miscarried. I heard his uncertain voice, tentative, like always. And then I easily edited him out of the footage. I removed the clip of me looking up, and I saved the film to give to my step-brother for Christmas.

What I remember of that day is nothing compared to the laboring over the film – the time it took to upload and the multiple trips back through it to properly edit the files together. My memory is now altered, skewed, and preserved differently, for me and for my family. My account, now fiction, is about to be disseminated as truth; yet, it feels more honest not to share that exchange of glances and few words that were likely unheard the first time.

memory hoarding

Apparently hoarding memory, or “memory hoarding,” according to the OCD Center of Los Angeles blog, is a shared trait of hoarders whether they have OCD or not.

Memory hoarding is a mental compulsion to over-attend to the details of an event, person, or object in an attempt to mentally store it for safekeeping.  This is generally done under the belief that the event, person, or object carries a special significance and will be important to recall exactly as-is at a later date.  The memory serves the same function for the mental hoarder that the old newspaper serves for the physical hoarder.”

remains to be sifted

I understand why I’ve held on to so many weird objects, but this doesn’t express why I’ve forgotten them. Items are buried, memories are covered up, and when I’m forced to sift through the rubble in the bottom of a crate, I’m confronted with intermittent moments of joy. In there is a smattering of painful tugs, dread at the photos of a past life that I anxiously tried to share with someone else, and relatively little nostalgia for past countries and experience.

Yet, as I clean out the boxes in preparation for another shift, I cannot help but feel I am hoarding memories. There is the constant feeling of “this might be the last time I see…” and I have caught myself snapping photos of bizarre moments in a vain effort to capture the present for later meaning.