A Note on Remembering
The past few weeks have been haunting. The voices of politics, of death, and of ruin are particularly loud, as they should be. Other categories of life are also loud. Work, family, self. All of it exists on the same plane, yet somehow things seem to unfold haphazardly, inconsistently. I don’t know what to make of it—I have an urge to preserve the unraveling world with the continuity of my life, so that even a partial account of it can help me make sense of things, no matter how fragmented.
In college, we spent our days and nights in the studios. I was a design major, which put me in a small open room just behind the painting studios. The smell of oils and acrylics enveloped us throughout the night, the atmosphere quiet and alive, until one by one we headed home.
Leaving campus at around 12 midnight was considered late for our less-demanding graphic design program if it wasn’t finals week yet, but not too late if you were on a project deadline. But working late in the studio was not as intense as it may sound to us now that we’ve put long nights well behind us—instead, that time of our lives interwove smalltalk chats with older design students who we never had classes with, coffee breaks at the only McDonald’s in San Francisco, and strolls up and down the main nave, where students from all majors were crossing—to classrooms, to the printers upstairs, to the water fountain, and to other studios. It was, like most things tend to be in hindsight—and yet very rarely during—a beautiful, ripe, hard, and hopeful time.
On one of those nights, I drove my friend home across the bay bridge. We were silent, nearing the ends of the energy we had for the day but awake enough to go back home. I was playing Brian Eno as we made our way onto the main part of the bridge, where it felt like we were floating. Time was hard to measure linearly, but the ambience of the track we were listening to is exactly the kind of experience that carved out a space we could hold. We weren’t just in the car—we were floating outside, viewing the time of our lives happen, until we were back again, brushing teeth in the meat of the everyday. It was only a ride home, yet the uneventful nature of it was expunged in the face of Eno.
Reflection, which is the act that happens when you do things like look at old photos or write about memories, makes things real. The existence of material like photos and language are mere tools until you hold them, using them to render that thing we call ‘remembering.’ Here I am, years after college, hailing words from my brain in service of the imagination of my mind that wants to give form to the things that I know have happened to me. The things that I can then, or more accurately, now, call ‘my life.’
The point is that the making of a memory is not just something that happens to you, or that you wait for. Remembering a time of your life is made possible by the tools of the human condition, like language and writing. They create the existence of time in a way that is otherwise only ever experienced ephemerally. While somewhat tedious to seek out amidst the busy thing we call our lives, memories are actively created by record, and they can be created from the most ordinary of things. They are not reserved only for novelty. They are reserved for every life.