Strangest thingAs we were navigating the border into New York state last weekend, I had a memory of having gone to an area around Niagara, in search of an address. I recalled that it had something to do with my application for a Nexus Pass, and I felt that Ponczka had been along, and that she’d been equipped with maps.
Ponczka could remember no such thing, and said so. “Why were we looking for this place?” she kept asking. And all I could do was repeat that it had something to do with the border. But neither of us could recall any event that was border related that led us to anywhere than the border itself. Aside from occasionally being redirected by a border guard to go into the station for “further investigation” for something like having “foreign food” (that’s another story!) border crossings were pretty routine. They didn’t involve driving up and down a road alongside a business park searching for an address.
This memory of mine made no sense. I had clear visual images of this very specific place, of looking for the address and finally finding it. I could recall details, like an underpass, patches of grass on a broken sidewalk, and street signs. But I had no memory at all of entering the place, or of what took place there. And I recalled clearly that all this took place during the day, despite that almost all of our border crossings take place after dark!
Finally, it came to me. A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled my interview to obtain a Nexus pass. And because I wasn’t familiar with the location, I went on Google maps to find it and to plan my trip. I employed the little green man avatar to get a street level view. And that was my memory.
My interview is weeks away. I’ve yet to visit the place in the flesh. But via my computer, I have actual, visual memories of this place, and of having negotiated this environment, clicking my way back and forth at will, swivelling the view, panning in and out. I even had a vague sense of purpose in being there. All in all, this was enough that it settled in my memory as an actual bodily experience. I even attached my constant travel companion Ponczka to the memory – though abstractly; I didn’t actually place her in these images, or put the maps in her hands.
How surprising, these adjustments of memory. None of this should surprise me. I’ve kept journals since age twenty, and they’ve given me many lessons in the creative power of memory. How many times have I had a clear, multiple sense memory of something that my journal has corrected. I might, for instance, remember being with Joan at a movie in September in New York. But my notes will tell me that I last say Joan in August in Boston, and the movie in New York was with Leslie. Often, there’s a kind of compacting that happens. Story lines, people, sequences get merged, much as a film adaptation will treat a massive novel. I learned long ago not to believe just because someone insists in all sincerity, “But I was there! I saw it with my own eyes”.This Google memory is a new one for me. But I bet it’s not unusual. It’s surely something that will become increasingly common. Soon, we’ll all have memories of places we’ve never been, accomplishments we’ve never attempted, and, bitter-sweetly, of “beautiful lovers we never got the chance to kiss”. (Joni Mitchell)