I have been thinking a lot about the possibilities of place/placement recently— both the placement of myself (in San Francisco, in my apartment, at my job, moving through time) and the intense memories that I have ingrained in my mind of other places (mostly places in Vermont, old homes/houses, paths that I have walked hundreds of times, fields, clearings where I can see the trees lining up just right if I try hard enough).
I have a hard time reconciling the nostalgia I feel for past places with the way that I absorb current placement in space as two equal parts: 1) a memory that is perhaps romanticized, or a composite: many experiences in one physical place over a period of time that are combined into one divine memory, and 2) the present-time interaction that occurs when I am both in a place, judging my experience in that place, and forming memory as I move through the space and simultaneously through time.
I have become the person I am today due to the intense way that I experience space, and the way I tend to reconstruct spatial interactions in my mind as a set of mental photographs that have meaning. I can bring to mind a place that I used to go when I was younger, and think my way through the physical space as though I was walking through it, shifting my weight from foot to foot, ducking under branches and inhaling the scent of the place’s surroundings. I even remember living beings in a spatial way: I see my dog Olive sleeping on our old Victorian rug, with her white fur moving up and down as she breathes; I see my grandparents in the living room of their house, sitting in their respective chairs; I see my cat Ugly George as he meanders through the doorway of our old living room, paws padding up and down on the hard-wood floor.
I was reading the New York Times Magazine’s article Total Recall, which is about the author’s journey as he becomes a champion of memory, able to memorize the randomized order of two full decks of cards in some ridiculously fast time, like one minute and twenty seconds. His technique is apparently a method that has been used since the time of the Ancient Greeks, and was more fully developed by a man who was the sole survivor of a freak accident where a building exploded, and he could remember where hundreds of people were sitting, simply because he could reconstruct their spatial relationships to each other and their surroundings. This technique of remembering is fascinating– you use a place with which you are incredibly familiar, like a childhood home or a best friend’s house— this is your “memory palace”. You then position your memories within the house as though they are inhabiting the space themselves, and somehow this allows you to reconstruct the memory as you imagine yourself walking through the space.
Anyway, my mom recently sent me a bunch of old photos that were stored on her computer, as she’s been getting prepared to trash the old iMac for an upgrade. As she has sent me all of these memories, I’ve begun to remember their placement within distinct places– I can remember that a photo of my cats was stuck to the refrigerator in the bottom left-hand corner, right under a picture of me wearing a red wig and a striped shirt. I can remember the photo of my mom and her two sisters as hippies in a frame near her computer in her office, and then I can look beyond the frame and see through the window beyond into our old yard, at the lawn mower parked out there, right under the bird feeder and the crumbling potted plants. There’s a picture of a susnet– I have no idea where I took that picture, or when— but I can remember the snapshot itself taped up to my cork board above my bed, next to a letter from my penpal and a green ribbon. Relics, trophies, souvenirs of days that passed me by like warm wind on the hazy beach of time.
If you don’t spend time walking through your memories, they grow dull. It’s amazing what will surface and resurface again, then, at some point down the road.