Tag Archives: memory

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.

digitizing memories

1993 for hoarding memory

A couple of months ago, I thought it would be smart to buy a very cheap printer/scanner to be able to print out a few pictures here and there for S. who is having an increasing number of school projects. The machine is total crap, but it is allowing me at least start on one project I’ve put off for many years.

I began journalling at the age of 10 with very insightful entries like “Dear Diary, Today I went to school.” I still have that journal. In the back of my mind, I always thought one day it might help my child to have my journals so they could know whatever they are going through is not so unknown. That was pretty presumptive on my part. S. would probably read my journals and say, “OMG TMI!”

In any case, I moved all of these notebooks here to Australia and I’ve decided that I might be able to digitize them. I’m glancing at pages here and there and sort of cracking up at my 1993 version of myself: very religious, very dramatic, very in love with my first serious boyfriend at university. I should dump the journals completely, but for some reason I can’t let go. Those notebooks were sometimes a lifeline to me. Writing has always helped me untangle very complicated and painful knots and has offered solace when there was none from the humans in my life. Sometimes I think I should publish them as a journey, but no one would want to read the thousands of pages of crap about my daily life – not even me, really. So here the pages go, into the computer, one by one, to maybe never come out again. At least another shelf will be clear.

tidying up

I’m a terrible digital hoarder. I had something ridiculous like 6000 unread messages in my inbox until last month. This was mostly spam or things I had read that I wanted to go back to, or things I had just forgotten to look at. I have known for quite some time that the organisational system I adopted when I started working in Australia was not working at all. I could not trick myself into going back to the so-called new messages because I knew I had already read them. So they accumulated. Before school started this semester, I spent a few hours and deleted all but 3. Now I’m back up to about 8, but I know what is in there. On the other hand, I have more than 16,000 messages in my inbox.

Somehow digital hoarding is not something I can overcome. My computer has so many files on it, even from my student years, that I feel I may someday need with urgency. They have come in handy when giving talks about now defunct websites that deal with memory or in dredging up old teaching materials, but honestly, most just lie there dormant cluttering up my hard drive. They are innocuous because I do not see them, they do not hinder me from moving about, and my computer behaves as if unfettered by their weight. But I think the burden of that endless archive may catch up with me and entrap me like a snowball gaining momentum on its downhill journey.

hoarding fake memories

My HP father has an uncanny memory. If you can get him talking about the past, he will tell you vivid stories with amazing detail about what it was like growing up. He hoards memory like he hoards newspapers and hunting magazines.

My career is based on studying what people say about their pasts (nostalgic and traumatic), but more particularly, I’m interested in how they say it. I have thought for at least a decade already that there is no way to validate memories – memories change, different ones emerge at different times, and maybe there is no true memory. For that matter, I have less faith in a concrete memory that reappears each time in the exact same form than I do in one that may reveal something different each time.

But variable as memories are, you cannot argue with someone about what they recall. How would it help me to prove to my father that his dad was not wearing plaid the day he did x, y or z. Or for that matter, what does it matter if my grandfather did not do x, y or z? What matters is my dad remembers it. He has held onto that scrap of information, however useless it may seem to me, and he has carried it around because it matters to him to retain it. He is telling me more about himself today than the reality of the past he may have lived.

Frost and Steketee have established a link between hoarders and memory (each item is indispensable because it has attached meaning, and the hoarder has a gift for seeing these connections). But how many of the links are false and corrupt? And does it matter? Because in the end, the hoard remains. 

How Many of Your Memories are Fake? from The Atlantic, 18 November 2013.

mammograms and work camps

Photo on 11-5-13 at 9.10 AM #2I’m in the waiting room at the Women’s Diagnostic Imaging Centre for my six-month follow-up mammogram. I just slipped on the soft greenish cotton cross-over top and then envisioned the room full of women watching the Australian Today Show as dressed for a day in a North Korean work camp. Never mind our makeup, styled hair, corpulence and the flat screen TV to entertain us, our garments are for torturous work. We will be probed, stretched out and twisted with our breasts smashed against the glass and metal. All in the name of preventing future torture at the hands of cancer.

During my very short visit with my father last December, I asked him about our family health history. His memory is amazingly detailed but I cannot get him to document the past. He regaled me with a horrid story about my great-aunt who was dead by her mid-thirties from breast cancer. She had refused an amputation to save her life and when she finally changed her mind it was too late. Medicine wasn’t so advanced in the 1960s. The same disease killed my grandmother when she was 54 and I was 8.

I’m now routinely being followed as suspicious spots appeared on my first exam. Today I get to help trial a new imaging machine with the Philips rep in the room talking the technician through the process. So much for work-camp analogies – this is a high-tech battle zone.

using it

Now that we are more or less completely moved from the U.S. to Australia and consider that anything left behind is disposable, it’s easier to take an account of what we have. Remarkably, we shifted continents using only suitcases and small boxes over the past two years. We are settled and not encumbered with stuff. The war still wages within me to not use precious valuables that have become even more special due to the vast oceans they’ve crossed. I still have to fight daily to toss out recyclable crafts brought home from S.’s kindergarten. I have to consciously attack the clutter around me to keep my desk cleared. But progress has been made.

My Turkish rug made the journey to Australia along with its missing piece still detached. But for the first time since I purchased it in 2003, the rug is now on the floorImage being used daily by both people and cats. I look at the gnawed-off edge and say,  So What! Rather than protecting the very happy memory associated with its purchase, I get to make new ones while playing with S. and her legos on the floor.

a family burden

Yesterday I wrote to my step-brother who lives the closest to my HP and who sees my dad and step-mom the most often, just to let him know I’m aware of the problem and available even though far away. We have not been close, ever really, but I feel it’s unfair for him and his wife to bear the burden of what my father has brought to the table, so to speak. My brother, on the other hand, claims to be committed to cleaning up the hoard because he wants to see what’s inside. I think he underestimates what the time commitment would be. I think he also wants to find buried treasure. That desire runs deep in my genealogy.

For the moment, all is calm on the hoarding front. I think this is the right time to prepare. I tried to express to my step-brother, in a very neutral tone, that I feel comfort he is nearby but by no means expect him to deal with it. I also simply stated that I do not feel attached to anything in the home. I hope he can read between the lines and understand that if they are stuck disposing of the mess, they can dispose of the mess without my interference. Perhaps what I will best be able to offer is financial help if it comes to that.

The house is dilapidated. Carpet has never been changed. The house was constructed in the late 1970s and the only major renovations that have occurred were when my father and I moved in c. 1990. He finished the basement. That same basement is now 80% inaccessible because of the hoard.

It makes me sad for my step-brother(s). This was their childhood home. It has been the same home in the backdrop of almost every memory growing up. This is where they still celebrate most major holidays. I haven’t been there for over a year already and I don’t expect to go back until 2013. Expect it to get worse, I flatly expressed. Maybe much worse.

reunion and recollection

While I classify the bulk of my research as part of Memory Studies, I am the first to admit I have memory trouble. Sometimes I have crystal clear precision of words or events, especially of places, but I can forget something you told me five minutes ago, I forget what I’m doing while I’m doing it, and I sometimes jumble things together.

My high school class(es) are getting ready for our (gasp) 20th year reunions this year, and in preparation, one of the classes is compiling images and video to show at the party. Someone just posted our Senior Class Video,  I’m three minutes in, and I have only recognized four or five people. These were our teachers and staff that we saw every day for years. Of all those who impacted me, I can give you the names of my French teacher, my psychology teacher, my calculus teacher, my American Literature teacher and my very favorite Physics teacher. Four of the five were my teachers for at least two years.

I’m dumbfounded. I feel like a stranger looking at someone else’s documented past. Is it because I only lived in that town for two and a half years? Or have I really erased so much of those mostly happy years in my life?

you can never go home

I wrote the following blogpost on March 10, 2009 for my research-related blog (which incidentally has seen less action over 5 years than this one saw in its first 6 months). Likely because of our recent move, this has been weighing on my mind, and I think the content much more appropriate to readers here. (Reposted with my own permission).


I received this message from a childhood friend yesterday on facebook, “My parents were just visiting and told me your old house has been razed….new home coming up. This follows a kitchen fire last year but I didn’t think they’d take the whole house down!”

I have known for years now that you can never really go home, but now that I know I can never revisit the place, I am pondering what that means. I can’t think of one reason I would want to return there. To remember the address, however, I typed in “Meadowview Ln” into Google Maps which suggested Meadow View Dr, and led me to click on a picture. When I turned just one click to the right, there before me was my house.

When I lived there the road wasn’t paved and cattle were kept in the field on “the hill” behind us. So now, I see the house for the first time in ages on the web, and it really no longer exists. I click up and down the street and remember Kory’s house and Kristen’s house and see a lot of houses that weren’t there before.

I told my mom the house was gone and she asked, “OK, so where’s the picture??? That is crazy and I think the kitchen is the only part we remodeled!!! Well, it has been a few years, hasn’t it.” It’s funny to think of asking for a picture of something no longer there. Proof that it’s gone? An empty lot? We can never go back. Not if we wanted, not if we had to.

Many Pieds-Noirs have been returning to Algeria in recent years. They bring back film that recaptures their homes and they play it for those who cannot physically return. When Jacques Derrida saw his homeland played back for him by Safaa Fathy, he found the past unrecognizable (see Tourner les mots), and Hélène Cixous traveled to Derrida’s Algeria with photos of his past, trying to make sense of what she was witnessing for the first time (Si près). But many Pieds-Noirs do not even see the present when they return. They only see what used to be.

In my case, this picture triggers memories of the dirt road and how big that hill to the right seemed when I rode my bike down it, and many of those houses now there were once just fields and empty lots. I see my past transposed onto the new siding and attempting to erase that ugly truck. But can I see an empty lot?

soliciting input on hoarding output

For those of you readers who are or have been personally impacted by hoarding, I would love your input on some questions I’m teasing out in my research.

I’m working on “Hoarding Memory” as a manifestation of loss in autobiography, but right now my questions are specifically related to the consequences of hoarding. It seems to me that hoarders hoard because they want to hold on to things, can’t bear to part with them, and then the accumulation over time becomes a sort of comforting nest, even if an isolating one. Although the intention is to save or salvage scraps,the sheer quantity of items quickly creates a storage problem. Consequently, the hoarded things that are meant to be preserved instead become inaccessible, forgotten, lost, and many times destroyed.

From your perspective, what are the other consequences of hoarding either on the objects accumulated or on the person who has accumulated them? Those of us who are in someway related to the hoarder are obviously impacted to varying degrees, so I welcome that insight as well.

Many thanks in advance for sharing.