Tag Archives: nostalgia

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.

personal nostalgia

My research has long focused on nostalgia. When I consider nostalgia in my personal life, however, this photo sums it up. I lived in this building behind the “Lausanne” sign, behind the train tracks, with a sweeping view down to Lac Léman and over to Evian, France, for almost a year. I loved walking through the train station every day, always imagining I could hop on any one of those trains and disappear somewhere into Europe, effortlessly. I stared at the lake for hours every day while writing the beginning of my dissertation, and I dreamed of what was at the end, just beyond what I could see. My nostalgia for that year, which was important to me for many reasons, is bound up in this view.

I returned to Lausanne last week after a six year absence, and my entire life has changed since then. I have a happy marriage, a beautiful daughter, a home, confidence in my career. I no longer need to hold on to nostalgic images of the past. I was somewhat afraid to confront this place again – afraid that I would see Switzerland for what it is and not for what it meant to me ten years ago or even five years ago. I know my idea of Lausanne is ridiculously romantic, yet somehow my nostalgia was not shaken.

Last Sunday was packed with coffees, teas, and meals with old colleagues and friends, each facing the lake. The weather was hopefully sunny in the morning, melancholic with drizzle at lunch, and joyfully light over tea. I’m projecting my encounters onto the lake and mountains, like I always do, but somehow my emotion was also always dictated by the light cast over Lausanne.

I realize now very clearly what I do and do not like about the unchanging nature of both the Swiss people and culture, but I’m grateful for that unchanging view and the sense of longing that it always culls inside of me. Were I to live there again and confront reality, my perspective may change, but for now I’m glad my nostalgia still has a home.



will i?

I’m getting into my late 30s and, only as of today, I officially have a will in place. It’s been a long-standing joke of ours at home that D. and I got married because I didn’t have a will. After months of being ill, we decided it was the wise thing to do. At least legally he would have some say in making life decisions with me, and we already owned a house together anyway. So we tied the knot at the courthouse, took our witnesses to a fancy dinner, and I threw up everything I had eaten. And so it went for several months, a few trips to the emergency room, multiple tests and scans, a surgery, and so forth until we discovered that it was a medicine I had been taking all of that time that was causing the problems. D. stood by me, held me, helped me out of bed to go to the bathroom, fed me endless quantities of cream-of-chicken soup, and always made sure there was someone to take care of me if he couldn’t. He was (and is) my hero. Even when we had our daughter together, I was never very worried about leaving everything in his hands. But the nagging thought of “what if we both die together” imposed some sense into me and more than a year after consulting with a lawyer, I finally used an online company, dragged it out still further, and got the damned thing signed in front of witnesses this morning.

Then I dropped D. off at home and headed to the hospital for more tests today – thankfully for something much less disruptive to our lives this time. When I pulled into the parking lot I had a warm rush of nostalgia. This is the hospital where our daughter was born, and although I’ve been there for so many worrisome reasons in the past, now all my thoughts were about the many baby classes we attended and the hospital room where we got to know S. for the first time, my mother doing a cross-word puzzle in the window overlooking our university’s football stadium, the extremely cold-snap we were having at the time, D. with a wounded leg propped up, me with a gash in my belly from the Cesarean … It all sounds so romantic in retrospect.

As I checked myself into the radiology department today I remembered signing our living wills together in one of those offices before we were wed. That felt like a bigger commitment to me than the house. I give you my love, but also the right to take me off of life support. And now it’s summed up in a tidy but legally binding document.

It’s a balmy beautiful spring day with first flowers and greening grass; pollen lies heavily on the pavement. Somehow I feel unable to leave this place that inspires so much memory, yet thankful that I will, thankful to acknowledge what’s good here today and for the last six years.

objets retrouvés

Lost and found

I went to my office on Saturday to clean out anything that mattered to me and any confidential papers that shouldn’t be left about for a stranger to read. Someone will be using my desk for the remainder of the semester and this was a good motivation to bring home more books. Two boxes were donated, four came home with me, and of those I’ve already begun a pile of what should be sold or recycled.

Waiting for me on my desk were a few VHS tapes I had converted to DVD. Just moments ago I checked the DVD made of “Outremer” (Overseas) by Brigitte Roüan, the story of three French sisters from Algeria and how they confronted the end of colonization, each in her own way. I had used this film as an undergraduate student in an art history project, I have loved it and revisited it over the years, but had more or less abandoned the video cassette on a shelf for the past five.

My heart lept when I saw it play here on my computer screen. How accessible this movie suddenly became, how joyfully familiar, its grainy images comforting me as nostalgia bubbled over. Once a cult object, much like my beloved copy of Les Pieds Noirs by Marie Cardinal, now it is so close to me, I wonder if its charm will wear off.

haunted by this object

This blog post has been nagging at me for more than a week, building in the back of my mind, much like the object inspiring it. It has bothered me so much that I wonder if the key to my memory hoarding lies within it.

I went to Iraq and Turkey in 2003 on a memorable, emotionally draining, terrifying and exhilarating journey. After our three days in Kurdistan with little time to do more than work and acknowledge the fragility of our lives, we returned to Istanbul to relax for a couple of days. My very favorite memory was a visit to a Turkish rug shop. After visiting the workshops, watching hunched-over women at their looms, seeing the silkworms, the dyed thread, and the extensive labor that went into each woven piece, our group was led into a grand room. We were seated on benches along the walls, served tea, and a spectacular display of color began. Several men came out with rugs in various sizes, and as they rolled them out across the floor, the fireworks began. It was like a splash of magnificent colors filled the room as each rug was dramatically unfurled before us.

I was still a newly employed academic at the time, struggling with student debt and a recent move across the U.S. I carefully weighed my options and I purchased a cotton on cotton rug, approximately 4′ x 2 1/2′, for a negotiated price of about $300. It was a sacrifice and a reward for me.

This rug, like most of my prized objects, has been rolled up and stored away for most of the time I’ve had it. I intended to hang it from the wall, but never managed to figure out how to display it. I had it out in my room a few times, and each time the cats scratched at it and broke threads. Then we remodeled our home a few years ago, and although it was rolled up, the rug was in our family room. The house sitter at the time had a puppy, and when we returned, I found a piece of the chewed rug, detached.

This is where I might have realized I had a problem. I was devastated. It made me sick to my stomach to see my beautiful tapestry “destroyed.” D. could not understand why I was so upset. After all, I had left the rug out and the house sitter was doing us a favor by being here. How could I be upset with him about a rug that only sat in a closet all this time?

I rolled up the rug and put it away. It has been in our daughter’s room until this morning when I finally dragged it out, afraid to unroll it and confront the damaged piece.

Two things occurred when I finally looked at the rug. I felt a warm moment of joy when seeing the beautiful and delicate pattern that drew me initially to this piece of art, and the chewed edge seemed far less onerous than I remembered it. I kept that separated chewed edge somewhere, but now I cannot find it … just another missing object that looms in my memory larger than life. The remaining rug, though, survives mostly intact.

I felt anxious every time I considered writing about the rug, and now that I’ve put it out there, I only feel I’ve honored both the object and the warm memory it represents – a beautiful fragment of nostalgia. Even the missing piece and the frayed edge seem to suddenly have a sense, a value, that adds to the meaning of the tapestry. Why would I cling to the ruined shard instead of the mostly intact object, and how did I recuperate it from ruins here in my writing?

a weighty past

Thinking about this blog last night, I felt a sense of sinister sadness in the posts that does not reflect my actual life. The subject, however, is weighty. While I consider myself a generally happy person with a very blessed life, much of my childhood to which these objects and images are attached is a dank blue memory. Some moments are yellow, few are golden, and generally speaking my memories are dingy, grainy, black and white, with my own past commingled with my imagining of my mother’s childhood. Somehow I feel I’ve lived her life in another manner although she has never, not once, indicated I’m taking a different path for her.

So while my present is actually filled with vibrant living, everything attached to this blog is heavy. I think I can dredge up moments of the past, bring them to the light, and leave them here so that my reality may be lighter than the past. For me it is thoughts of my imminent future that sparkle.

It is not without a certain nostalgia that I write about objects, but each one is melancholy in its own rite, anchoring me too much, emblematic of what I’ve already left behind.

Now on to finding ways of expressing that lightness that comes with the freeing from things.

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.