ELAYNE RIGGS:The impersistence of memory
As many readers doubtless know by now, my father recently died due to injuries he sustained in a car crash. Dad always said that Las Vegas drivers were the most dangerous in the country, and he was right. While I’d be happy to talk about Dad at length in person, I won’t take up ComicMix space by expounding on anything at length here. It’s all been too draining.
I’ve just returned to the outside world from a week spent with my mom and youngest brother at his home in NJ (not far from where Dad is buried), engaged in the Jewish tradition of "sitting shiva" where friends and relatives visit to pay their respects and remember the lost loved one.
One of those visitors was my remarkable childhood friend Rachael, whom I discuss at greater length in my personal blog. Rachael’s sharp recollection of our bygone play days highlighted my mounting frustration at a condition I’ve been noticing for awhile now — my fading memory.
My uncle analogizes what’s happening to a locked file cabinet for which I’ve misplaced the key, and I agree. The memories are stored in my brain somewhere, I’ve just temporarily lost the ability to access them. And so I’ve learned workarounds.
Take pop culture, for instance. Unless I keep meticulous records of the comics I read (which I did during my Usenet days when I reviewed lots of books each week), I don’t vote in any annual polls of the year’s best. We received our Harvey Awards nomination ballot in the mail today, which went right into the circular file. It’s not that I didn’t want to nominate folks, and it’s certainly not that there weren’t any outstanding comics and tremendous talents around last year. It’s that I wouldn’t be able to call any to my brain; nothing sticks with me. Which doesn’t really bother me — it’s not that important that I retain fiction in my head, because it still exists independently of my mind in an accessible, tangible form. I can always pick up an old book or rewatch a DVD, and if by some chance I make the time to re-experience any bit of fiction, I’ll be delighted by the details all over again.
On the other hand, I’m the only one responsible for remembering the specifics of my own life, and at the moment I feel like I’m shirking that responsibility. Some of it’s been replaced with other responsibilities, like appointments and phone numbers I need to remember immediately for my office job. And at such time as I’ll no longer need to act as instant recall for my boss, that part of my brain will be free again to process other stuff. And I hope seeing old friends again over the past week will eventually trigger the process which will open that cabinet again.
Until that time, I write, every day. Because, especially during the times my memory betrays me, that’s always been the most reliable way for me to record my existence. I kept diaries from the time I was a teenager almost through my college years, and I still have most of my college papers — of which I’ve made use in memorials to my old friend Bill-Dale Marcinko as well as to Dad (everyone who came to see us was able to leaf through my "Family in History" final paper where I talked about Mom’s and Dad’s respective childhoods). After that I have issues of my INSIDE JOKE newsletter and apazines and, still further along, Usenet and message board posts and, nowadays, my blog. And since it’s in accessible, tangible form, I’m determined to seek out the paper stuff, which is bound to trigger other sense-based recollections.
Now if only I could remember where I put my old diaries.
Elayne Riggs is news editor for ComicMix. She thanks everyone who conveyed their heartfelt condolences on the passing of her father, Alex Wechsler, in whose name donations may be sent to the Hebrew Free Burial Association or to the Jewish National Fund to plant a tree in Israel.