There’s such a thing as irony, and when we lack it, we’re anemic (and that’s a thing called paronomasia, or punning, or wordplay). But no matter what we call it, what’s at the heart of my personal irony today is the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I have never seen it. But I have read parts of it, and I have read parts about it.
It began the second or third day of my Creative Writing class. We were covering screenplays and we were reading an example, and this was the movie my teacher decided to bring in. We read the opening of the script. We watched a couple clips on YouTube. We–rather, the people who had seen it–talked a bit about it. And then I ran to the library, checked the stock, and saw we didn’t have it. Ergo, I did not watch it.
Where’s the irony, you say?.
Today, as I booted up my computer and signed in, I was considering what things I wanted to do for Chanukah. I know I’m going to write a post a day for eight days and each day will be something somehow related to Chanukah, but somehow not just about Chanukah… and I want to use this opportunity to continue my series of things I’m thankful for (and finally after a year and a half reach my halfway mark), but I was still short on ideas. Do I go generic and write about lights and latkes? Do I go far out and write about things barely oiled and fried, but possessed of a greater depth and all eleven dimensions? And what, what was the name of that Chanukah book I read a few years back that broke this all down already?
I opened my browser.
I logged into WordPress.
And there I saw a post about Eternal Sunshine and the new Facebook Timeline (you can read it here). Reading it I was reminded of that time, in Creative Writing, when we read this script. And I was reminded of that time, on Rosh HaShanah, right around when the movie came out, that my rabbi spoke about it during his sermon, how he mused about the ability to erase our every thought, how he perplexed us with the question of whether or not we would do the same if given the chance or instead choose to remember our past but to live in spite of it….
I hadn’t thought about that sermon in years.
I was at a bar with friends last night. I drank only water (and laughed at all the drinks’ names) but what stands out is how one of the people I was with made an offhanded comment about how sometimes we don’t remember things until we’re reminded of them, but then the memory sticks with us and stays on our minds for weeks. That’s how it really happens. Our entire history is here within us, waiting to be drawn out, but only when the keys of memory have slipped in and the gates of time are opened again.
I’m afraid to forget. I hold onto things of trivial importance because when I hold onto them, I remember where they came from. The PokeWalker on my shelf brings me to my youth, when all that mattered was how many gym badges I had accrued. The painted plastic Miriam’s cup on my bookshelf (ironically stationed next to a mechanical plastic Pikachu whose ears wiggle when you push his tail down) reminds me of my year as madrich with the fourth grade, three students strong. The NaNoWriMo posters on the wall behind me remind me of my first year (when worried I wouldn’t have enough for fifty-thousand words I paced in an open field near where my dad lived, brainstorming a dozen tales I could tie into one) and my first year as an ML (when I wrote a collection of short stories, only maybe one of which was any good).
These things are all parts of me. Strong parts of me. I’m afraid sometimes if I let them go, if I forget them, I will lose who I am. I may be the sum of my past, the product of my experiences, but history is accrued exponentially and no amount of material goods can define me.
Yet I still hold on.
Amid all this morbidity, amid all this irony, I’ve always wanted to keep a memory journal, a book whose bindings were for nothing more than writing down feathers of my past as they blew toward me in the whirlwind of life. I have started one, but I want to begin adding some here, just to keep a record, to make sure–if all else fails–I will not vanish with my memories, but have something I can return to.
So today, this first day of Chanukah, I’m thankful for something special–for memories. I’m thankful we, as humans, were blessed with this capacity to look back and imagine. I’m thankful of the moments, thought lost, that come back without warning, for better or worse–like that time I went running in the rain in search of rainbows, and we splashed through puddles in alleyways I had never seen before, or that time, with that person, in the kitchen (I’ll say nothing more), or when in the middle of the night, I was stirred from my sleep….
Memories define us. Where we hold our memories shapes us. We are a collection of volumes of our own personal history, and we get to be the editors. We get to decide the chapters and paragraphing, the headlines and bylines. No more shall I read a book on World War II and only see the Holocaust in a single sentence–for in my world, in my tome, I get to decide what carries weight, and I say it warrants more than a passing word. I get to slow down along the edges of all my favorite moments, and I get to press fast-forward when nothing else is going on.
Maybe this is why I journal. Maybe this is why I try. I fall behind for months at a time, but I fail to think straight till I’m all caught up. I need to know I remember, I need to know I won’t forget–so I hold onto things until I can release them, I hold onto things until I get a chance to write them down. And then I’m free. And then, no matter how many memories may escape me, I’ve still got them saved and safe where I can find them, where they’ll always be.
It’s raining as I write this. Oh, the memories the rain brings.