Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vivid Memories

To the muse whose face is in the shadow of memory, whose throat brought us here.

I keep a diary, and one of the entries I try to keep up on are vivid memories that pop up during the day. These aren't just me remembering, "Oh, yeah, that happened." The memory has to have some sensory element that comes back into my head perfectly. For instance, my dad bought me a pink balloon. I remember the exact shade of the balloon before and after being blown up, so the balloon is a vivid memory.

The interesting thing, that the above illustrates quite well, is that these are entirely random. I remember the shape of quite a few traumatic memories well, of course, and the shape of exciting ones, amazing moments, moments I try to remember. But the memories where I can quote and mimic inflection, or repeat the movement, or remember how the hug felt, are entirely random. From observation, I have gathered that this is true of other people, although I'm not entirely certain.

What I find interesting about this is that it means a sufficiently large audience focusing on a sufficiently small performance will have every bit of the performance. Everyone will remember the shape of the spectacle you wanted to draw attention to, a good chunk will remember this or that part that made them come to a sudden realization, but these random, vivid-as-life memories can come from any part of the performance.

"Performance" has an association with the stage, and this is not the definition I am using. Any action with a sufficiently large group of people looking at it finds its way into someone's memory.

The statistics aren't perfectly even, of course. Things people are more likely to remember the shape of that are new are tipped a little towards vividness.* Because newness makes it more likely to be remembered, younger people and people in a completely new situation are more likely to remember. We recognize that much, intuitively. "Oh, I remember because it was my daughter's birthday." "I know because I forgot my hat that day, and when I went back I looked out the window and there it was." 'Something thrust me out of my routine, so I remember everything a little better.' But true vivid memories still have a touch of random to them. If something sticks out enough to make me remember, I may remember the shape better. If something is traumatic enough to give me flashbacks, then of course those are more vivid than almost everything else.

But I also remember the shade of that balloon. That freezer of ice by the grocery door. Staring at the mirror with the big crack down the middle. Bending to the audience in 'Defying Gravity' in eighth grade. The moment I realized I liked him, followed by the whiplash realization and throwing myself out of that. The lunar rainbow.

And so any word I say can be the most important thing I've ever done, because this person remembered it, and it inspired this.

*The shaped ones that you see regularly get back into shapes, like trying to hold a camera still and taking a picture of the same landscape on the same part of the film--the superimpositions that are slightly off blur the image.

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