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A Valentine’s Series No. 61566 card. I love this postcard of Matlock Bath. It’s one of the first ones I bought. There’s something deeply familiar about this image. I know the path, and have often walked it. I know those colours, those autumnal trees too, they form part of my memories of childhood, I know the Victoria Prospect tower, heck I swept it out often enough in my teens! Yet at the same time as being familiar there’s also those two ghostly figures staring towards the lens. For me this is an unheimlich or uncanny image.

You are what you remember. It’s difficult to imagine being ‘you’ without some access to your remembered life story. But the new science of memory tells us that remembering is just that: a story.

Memories are not stashed away, fully formed, in the vaults of the brain; they are constructed, when needed, according to the demands of the present. And they are soberingly fragile as a result.

You can have vivid memories of things that never happened, and yet you can come away with only the sketchiest recollections of events that actually did.

I pick up a [page of the diary], read it and discover how much detail that was valuable to me I have half forgotten. I can put together a dozen [entries] written perhaps over a dozen years and read them in five minutes, and this contraction of time intensifies the experience.

If only my young self and my old[er] self could shrink time and come together.

What is most distressing is not the half-forgotfulness that hangs over the [entries] like dark matter, but the sense that I can understand the implications of what I am reading better now than I did when I first [conceived] them.

Based on an article ‘Author, Author’ by Michael Holroyd, Saturday Guardian 30.10.10 […] = my substitutions

When I recall, I know I’m not remembering the event itself, but a version of it formed by my last act of remembering it.

My mental home movies, assemblages all, bear little resemblance to any empirical reality. Yet in that fact there’s a kind of freedom. I don’t have to be constrained by particular habits of remembering, I can make myself anew each day. Memory is a kind of storytelling, and I happen to like stories as they contain a rather wonderful, sideways, truth.

In navigating around Cyril I’m often operating as a story teller, talking Cyril back into life. The German word nachglanz feels like an apt world to represent the ephemeral nature of tracing his life through storytelling. It roughly translates as afterglow.

Navigating Cyril isn’t a literal account of biography any more than my own memories are a literal account of my life, yet in the distortions of places, events, time and in generated echoes, I feel I’m getting closer to him.

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47 thoughts on “‘Nachglanz’

  1. So very true. When I wrote my memoir full of stories, I wrote as creative non-fiction. It freed me from the detail and liberated the essence of the story itself. Since a memoir is, after all, what you can remember I allowed myself to spew story after story. Each one relatively meaningless, yet together a completed picture.
    Congratulations of your Freshly Pressed. Well deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The greatest power any human being possesses is the power to choose what they focus upon. Focus shapes belief which in turn shapes experience. You get what you look for.

    Focus on the good stuff and the world will be a happy place for you. If you’re happy, you’ll tend to focus on the positive. It’s a delicious cycle.

    When I write my hiking stories, I only include the positive moments and the stuff that made me laugh. Nothing else is worth remembering now. Life is good, and I’m getting better and better at seeing that.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. “You can have vivid memories of things that never happened, and yet you can come away with only the sketchiest recollections of events that actually did.”

    I can totally relate to this. It’s pretty amazing how i still remember some of my daydreams from when i was a child 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Afterglow?! Hmm, I like that! The scientists would have us believe that everything we see around us is the result of so many atomic reactions therefore it is all gone, in the past. So an afterglow of what I remember from the past sits pretty well for me! Incidentally, if we change and renew our cells completely every ten years or so, then it begs the question of where exactly do we draw these memories from? Makes you realise that anything to do with life cannot be questioned, it just IS!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, and congrats on getting Freshly Pressed! Although short, this musing really spoke to me…

    There’s something vaguely horrifying about the fact that your memories are not of the event themselves, but of your last act of remembering it. Sad to think that like photocopying a photocopy, the truth of the memory gets more and more indistinct, or rather the pure memory accretes a sort of obscuring rust of subsequent interpretation and amendment, becomes something more easily understood, blockier, less beautiful. Like a badly-restored rare book. Especially since it is the most precious memories we revisit the most – the things we most want to hang on to, by very dint of our lovingly reliving them again and again, will become the memories most storified and untrue to their original life and colour.

    Better perhaps to put them from our minds for years at a time, to try to forget (or rather try not to re-member), so that the shine won’t get rubbed off, so they can shock us with their sudden clarity, summoned up when we walk round a certain corner, see a certain face, smell a familiar scent. But when life itself so often disappoints, how can we bear to exile ourselves from the comfort of our memories of when we were most happy?

    I think I may need a cup of tea now 😦 Thanks for the thought-bomb!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. This is wonderful! Knowing that the source of the stories is inherently unreliable is at once troubling and liberating; ever the optimist, I choose to emphasize “liberating.” 🙂 Thank you for this, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed, deservedly so with this beautiful essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for a thoughtful post. I read once a complaint by one of Shirley Jackson’s children (Jackson frequently wrote about her children, when they were young) that she often had no idea what parts of her childhood she recalled from having been there, and what parts came out of her mother’s stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interested perspective: Many often made the point that you’re what you eat, but what if you have nothing to eat, does that make you truly who you are. To your point, I agree to some extent, because we are molded by our experiences good or bad, but if one chooses to only carry the good forward, while have a vivid memory of the bad , then is it possible to say, you are what remember.

    Take for Example, violence against women: some uses it to become to changes agents if they survived, and other continues in the abuse for several reasons, if you push the argument to that platform. So, can we honestly say the ones who are trapped become what they remember from that experience. I agree with you, but just trying to push this further if you allow me. Again excellent post. See my link below how events can create good and bad memorizes, but does it define the brain to have a permanent memory, or can it be modifies: http://mydocvu.com/2014/09/20/commentary-a-new-look-at-violence-against-women/

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I realised what a mess I’m in at the very first line, which makes me a complete mess of obsessions, useless random technical facts, traumatic occasions, thoughtless hurtful comments and kind gestures from others, and mostly nothing of any use to anyone! But one of the reasons that I’m compelled to write about significant moments in my life is so that I don’t have to rely on my memory later on to recall the event in a way that bears some semblance of accuracy to what actually happened, rather than what I chose to remember or what memory has left of it, leaving me to embellish it with my imagination.
    However I also realise that most of the damage has already been done during the creation of the memory in the first place as I’ve already recorded the event through my own distorted lens.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another, possibly more relevant point, is the memories I have based on photos. Those pictures of ourselves when we were probably too young to have a full understanding of what happens around us, those photos of our parents and grandparents, they all fill in gaps in our memory to the point where the memories of pictures and stories told, just as is mentioned here, blur into our actual recollections in the first person.
      We have a bit of a family joke that my sister’s memory starts from when she was conceived, or possibly years before, since she has unquestionable memories from before she had a fully functioning brain – whatever that is – due largely in my estimation to information gathered from outside of her own first hand experience.
      Thanks for prompting me to spurt gibberish and further question my own jumbled, leaking and distorted RAM.

      Like

  10. This reminds me of another funny thing about memory, at least mine. It’s that sometimes I have such vivid memories of a place/event but I’m not sure whether it really happened or whether it is a dream that I’m remembering as if I’d actually lived it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I like what you said about not being constrained by any particular habit of remembering and how you can make yourself anew each day. if only more people do that for “sad” memories and I think some psychologists say that we are stressed because we remember.. Aside to that, I also love exploring the concept and construct of memories in my short stories and poems.

    Liked by 1 person

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