People write down things they want to remember. Buy milk. Clean garage. Find a man. Have kids. Pay Comcast, and f*ck Comcast. Doctor’s appointment on Thursday.
Some people write down more complex things they’d like to remember: their lives; doing so ensures the availability of everlasting reflection. They use diaries to capture life’s ups and downs — journals that will one day serve as amusing time capsules soliciting chuckles and feelings akin to what alien aunts and uncles say at family reunions: “My, my Marge, look at you! You sure have grown! Now that you’ve reread this journal, you’ve proven to yourself that you’ve matured since your twenties, so why don’t you wrap your hands around a warm coffee mug and listen to NPR.”
I do not like memories. To me memories are burdens, ghosts that never go away, that make one jealous of how things used to be. And yet for the past four-and-a-half-ish years I’ve built this column around almost nothing but memories — memories that I think are entertaining enough for you to care to read. I pick things from my past (and, for an eggshell stint last year, from some of your pasts) that contain some nuggets of resonance.
I do not write about memories to remember them, however. I am not a memoirist. I am a forget-me-ist. I write down things to get them out and to keep them out, to put them on paper and wish them farewell.
Even “good” memories are a struggle; indeed, they are the struggle. I don’t like good memories. I very much enjoy making good memories, but I hate keeping them. They contain the wicked capacity to pull at our heartstrings, to remind us about how wonderful things were, only then to gently remind us that we’ll never again experience those feelings firsthand. Happy today or not, our hearts are greedy, insatiable things that aren’t content with only today’s happiness, but yesterday’s and tomorrow’s as well. The feelings our emotional engravings evoke have a name: “Nostalgia,” a moniker worthy of a demon.
For this reason, I keep almost nothing of sentimental value. My apartment looks like an untouched hotel suite: there is no trace of me there; the place is a steel and glass bubble devoid of sentimentality. I do keep a shoebox of memories — a random selection of two-dollar bills my grandfather gave me, the last Christmas card my grandmother ever sent, a few old pictures, a handful of trinkets. And I have my journals, which I open when collecting or referencing gray memories for this column, good and bad. But otherwise I keep nothing on purpose. I am a memory purger who can’t help but to remember.
So I did some research. I polled friends, acquaintances, and friendly faced bar strangers to determine how prevalent is my distaste for happy memories. I talked to 20 or more people and not a single person even understood my preference for bad memories over good ones: it seems that people actually enjoy happy things. As do I, only restricted to the present. My rationale to them was the same as it is to you: bad memories enhance gratitude for the present day: “Thank god I’m not in THAT situation anymore.” Good memories emphasize yesterday’s blessings. The good ones tease and, in my case, don’t return.
I am not positing an argument with this letter. My way of thinking is silly and strange, maybe ungrateful even, I admit, and I quite envy you for your ability to fondly look back.
Am I jealous of who I used to be? No. I don’t want to be him again. I don’t even want to meet the guy. But then, what would life be without him, all of him, the good and the bad? There wouldn’t be one. There wouldn’t exist a “me” to waste your time every two weeks with this column. So I kind of owe the happy guy everything.
For those of you — okay, the one of you — who feels the way I do: what gives, man? We’re both experts at dealing with bad memories. It’s the good ones that are tough, yeah? We clearly have unresolved issues. We shouldn’t want to forget what made (and makes) life great. We need a way to deal with these issues. Some kind of therapy.
I’ve heard writing helps.