Tag Archives: Memory

Night Thoughts by Day

I think that to write is to come to an understanding.

I think that, I think that.

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must express.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?


Sleeping has been a challenge for a while now, but last night’s experience was particularly interesting. I was part of a conversation that included two people who I know, only one of whom was making any sense. I remained alert for quite some time after awakening and mulled over what had been said, but it trickled away from me as fast as I recognized the nonsense that was happening. And then I remained alert thinking about the strangeness of these people having a conversation, and I noticed a feeling of something lost.


I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand others.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand themselves.

Can we understand others without understanding the self?

And can we understand the self separately from understanding others?


I am far calmer lying awake at 3am than 11pm.

At 11pm, my eyes are active. It takes effort to put the book down, effort that my occasionally rational brain insists upon because it’s late. It’s 11pm, after all, and I haven’t been sleeping.

At 3am, my eyes are tired. My brain spins but my eyes are tired and at least I’ve slept until then, which is comforting. I need to stop the thoughts from dancing but at least my eyes are closed and that feels good.


At 3am, I go back to:

How am I feeling about the move?

Aside from feeling defeated by the question, I’m terrified.

I was a different person the last time I moved, and that was in a different lifetime.

How am I supposed to be feeling?

At 11pm, I am alert enough to avoid the subject.


During a very dark period of my life, I used to record my thoughts in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I used to turn on the songs that made me cry and play them over and over. I’d mouth the words until they became part of me and then I’d cry and be able to rest.

This is not that time.

But I am aware of how the patterns of behaviour that I developed out of necessity at that time have imprinted themselves on how I cope with challenges.

Adaptation is critical to human survival, and I wonder if I have become habituated to the sort of aimlessness I am experiencing now. This is not the right word, and far from an accurate characterization of my time and even my personal reflections of my time, but it is an accurate word to describe this feeling. It is a strange world when the reality and the feeling do not match.

Something is different this time, this move, this change. I cannot blame the pandemic, for blame is cause-effect, right-wrong, black-white. And the world is shades upon shades of gray and purple and green and blue and and and.

But I can acknowledge that coping throughout the pandemic has necessitated adaptation.


I wonder about our claims to significance.

Do we know at the time that a thought, a conversation, a shared glance, an observation will become signficant?

Or is significance developed through, over, across time? And then, is it the act or event itself or our memory and interpretation of it that becomes significant?

And does it matter?


I remember what it means to be excited and intellectually, I am. But my body does not have those feelings. The first inkling I had of what my body had lost was the moment when a friend reminded me, “This is an adventure.” As I write the word, I cannot keep from smiling.

Adventure.

My body knows what it is to have an adventure.

My mind knows what it is to live an adventure.


Does a feeling need a name to be known?

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must not be afraid of looking.

Learning to See

Whenever I travel, I bring a camera. Whenever I go out to do something potentially cool and photo-worthy (i.e. hiking or going for a stroll in a favorite neighborhood), I bring a camera. And whenever I bring a camera, I expect that I’ll be writing a blog post. This habit influences what I look for, which impacts what I see and subsequently write about.

And I know I’m not the only one. When I first moved to New York, I had coffee with a couple of bloggers (literally a blogging couple – what a dream!) that I met online and we talked about feeling pressure to document, write, and maintain readership. Crafting a good travel blog post, for example, involves some planning: What’s the story I want to tell? What themes do I want to capture? What feelings do I want readers to have? What do I want readers to see or experience or look forward to? As the post builds in my head, I document accordingly. At the same time, photographing and writing about my weekend wandering when I was living in New York gave me a sense of purpose when I didn’t have one.

I’ve learned some really valuable lessons throughout, like what makes a compelling photo. Seeking out those photos has encouraged me to stray from the beaten path, talk to locals, and simply to wander. But I’ve also learned that the minutiae of humanity are important to me. I spent a week in Europe in April and photographed every interesting doorframe I saw and then turned it into a framed poster when I got home. I have pictures of people’s laundry hanging up to dry from everywhere I’ve been.

Akko
Akko, Israel – July 2013

Some of my favorite photos are looking over the rooftops from a few storeys above the ground. But when I take photos like these, I catch myself wondering whether they fit into the story I’m trying to tell.

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Nice, France – July 2008

As I look around, I’ve seen beauty everywhere – in the sky, in the water, in urban and rural settings. Sometimes, it’s enough to be overwhelmed by what is everywhere while other times, it’s the focus on one element that quickens the heart. I take photos of sweeping landscapes and historic village centers but sometimes the ones that I like best are close-up shots of individual flowers, rocks, or flagstones.

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Batemans Bay, Australia – October 2017

Visiting family in Toronto this summer, which I’ve done dozens and dozens of times, I did not bring a camera. I knew that we’d spend time walking around downtown, which I’ve rarely done because my time in Toronto is always spent hanging out with family. But honestly, I didn’t expect to see anything worth photographing. To me, Toronto mostly means the suburbs where my grandparents and some cousins live and the downtown residential neighborhood where the rest of my cousins live. I didn’t really think there was much to see. If there were, I figured I would have seen it by now.

Turns out I was wrong.

After brunch with our relatives, my dad and I wandered through downtown. We followed a guide my sister had written specifically for this occasion; she went to university in Toronto and has recently moved back there. She sent us on a walking tour of her favorite downtown spots, landmarking what we’d see with restaurants, little shops, and parks. She included anecdotes about some of her favorite experiences and suggested places to stop for food and drinks.

Turns out, I wished I had a camera. If I’d had a camera, I told my dad, I could have documented the day and written a blog post. He reminded me that I had a phone and that my phone has a camera. Oh. Right.

But then I realized something important. I realized that, in my irritation at not having my camera, I was forgetting to look around and actually see. And in that, I wasn’t present. I wasn’t experiencing what was right in front of me. My favorite experiences of all time are seared into my memory because I was present throughout; I don’t have any hard evidence to document them, but even writing this sentence has brought a smile to my face.

Had I become so focused on looking that I’d forgotten to see?

That thought disturbed me and I made a conscious effort to shift my perspective as we continued our stroll. Instead of documenting for my blog, I walked around downtown Toronto with my dad, pointing out what I thought was cool, stopping here and there to visit a shop or taker a closer look at a mural, a poster, a unique building. It was interesting to hear what he noticed and how it differed from what I noticed and it was relaxing to just take a walk without feeling like I had to tell anyone about it.

Over the course of that afternoon, I learned something valuable. I learned that while I enjoy taking photos and writing about my experiences, I don’t have to do that all the time. Sometimes, it’s enough to just be present wherever I happen to be, with whoever I’m with. And I learned that I need to balance documenting a place for others and being present for myself.

When I recall my favorite travel experiences, there are no cameras. The travel moments that I  treasure the most – telling stories during long road trips after dark; utter chaos at dinner in the middle of a city; stopping at a farmer’s market to buy food for a picnic that we prepared in the trunk of the car; drinking jugs of sangria outside in the winter; tasting spicy cocktails in a restaurant that looked like a forest – are documented through my memory of smells, sounds, mental images, and feelings of warmth. There’s likely something scribbled in a journal, too, and I expect that my memory and the moments themselves differ.

So while I love taking photos, telling stories, and sharing them, I’ll be doing that with a different mindset. I’ll be looking, yes, but the goal will be to see.

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Cordoba, Spain – December 2014

Back to the Beginning

I left Singapore’s Changi Airport this morning after 32.5 hours of travel. Half an hour later, I arrived at the hotel where I’ll be staying for a couple days and took a shower in the pool locker room because my room wasn’t ready. My primary objective for the afternoon was to stay outside as much as possible in order to keep myself awake and to let natural melatonin do its thing.

Immediately upon leaving the airport, I realized a year away means a lot in terms of memory. For example, I’d forgotten that they drive on the left side of the road here, a legacy of British colonialism. I forgot that no one knows how to walk in a straight line, that people actually wait for the crosswalk light to change before crossing the street, and that escalators are for standing (strictly on the left, of course). Additionally, I forgot that you tap your subway card on the way in and on the way out to calculate the fare and I forgot the subway map altogether.

So many people smoke cigarettes, which I’d also forgotten, and it’s gross. And yet, I knew exactly where to find the closest money changer and where to get a new SIM card. I remembered the location of certain stores in a mall I used to frequent and was able to recognize new ones.

It’s weird that I was gone for a year . . . and it’s weird that I was gone for only a year.

I felt somewhat similarly in Rochester this summer. There were certain things about driving around town that I’d just forgotten. I’d forgotten how certain neighborhoods blend into each other and the names of different streets that I used to know. It’s unsettling that after spending so much of my life in that one place, a lot of it was gone, replaced by new pertinent information like all the local and express stops on the 4, 5, 6 trains in New York.

I expect that it’s going to be the same in Singapore for a little while. There’s definitely some adjusting to do, but it feels good to back.