Tag Archives: past

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.

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.

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?

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.



things to hold on to, things to let go

Sadie just left for her new life on a country farm. We’ve had ample time to prepare for her departure, and because she’s visited the farm several times already, we know she’s happy there. All of this preparation makes her absence much less sad than it could have been. Letting something I’ve loved for a long time go to a better home is OK. Besides, in my mind, Sadie will live happily ever after. I will never have to suffer those days of watching her in pain or the agony of deciding to put her down.

While I’m able to let go on this point, I still hold on to ridiculous pieces of someone’s past, not sure where to file them. These two photographs were tucked inside of a rare book by Marie Cardinal that I picked up at a flea market in Lausanne, Switzerland. I have held on to them for the past ten years, not knowing who the woman is, but imagining she looks something like Cardinal. I’ve studied the pictures over the years and tucked them back in the book again, forgetting they exist. It’s almost as though I’m the guardian of someone else’s memory, a memory now vacant of meaning and waiting for my story to transpose itself there. Will my new photo replace the paper copies making the meaning now mine? Am I the new home for this adopted memory, a better place for the image to live on? Or is it now up to me to decide if the photos should be discarded, laid to rest, put down and out of their misery?