Triggering Memories


The past few days have been a whirlwind of activity. My twin nephews, who are the embodiment of energy and chaos, stayed with me for a few days.

Parents, you are all saints for refraining from strangling your children.

Since I couldn’t get any writing done with one of my nephews begging me to put on the Annoying Orange videos, I didn’t get much writing done. However, when they left, I experienced a moment of Zen . . . and also heartache as I do miss them.

But that’s not the topic of this post–reminiscence is.

I’ve written about memories before, but not in this context. I’ve been experiencing “triggers” lately that transport me back to a completely different time and place. Yesterday it was the sunlight coming through my window and a cool breeze flowing through my apartment.

Today it was a song I was listening to on the subway to work.

But my reminiscing isn’t as simple as just remembering events or even remembering how I felt. I actually feel the exact potency of emotion as I did that day.

Since I don’t have access to anyone else’s memories or emotions, I can’t tell if everyone experiences memories the same way. People certainly get sad thinking about sad things or happy thinking about happy things, but is it because they’re feeling the exact same joy or sadness they felt that day or are sad or happy about the memory?

It might seem like an arbitrary difference, but I’d argue it’s vital. My memories are so clear most times: I remember every little detail, and remembering becomes more about reliving.

I suppose that’s the real distinction, and how memories can be a curse as well as blessing: I relive those moments–smell, taste, touch, sound–and I physically feel the anguish or joy or fright I did then. It also leads to an avalanche of other thoughts and emotions.

The sunshine and breeze in my apartment reminded me of riding the school bus in 6th grade. We’d ride down a boulevard that faced the morning sun, and the glare was fierce yet comforting. Sitting in a green leather seat, I’d hum this little tune while staring at the sun. I felt such wonder about the world (I was a weird 10 year old). I remember how pure my thinking was at that time, about myself, the girls I liked, my family. And I relive that experience when I think of  today.

Ok, enough of that. 🙂

What triggers memories for you? How vivid are your memories?


10 comments on “Triggering Memories

  1. That’s interesting. I know for me certain smells remind me of certain things, usually people. Depending on the scent, it can just be a person in particular or a memory. They usually have nothing to do with the scent either. The human brain is pretty weird.

  2. Your sense of smell is supposed to be the most evocative for remembering. The smell of snow, of a wood fire, the scent of the earth after a rain, or freshly mown grass, the scent of fresh pine in the living room for Christmas. A cool night breeze with the rustling of trees will make me stop and breathe deeply and remember, even if I am just going from my car to the house. Great post, Mike.

    • Thanks, Naomi. I would love to know one of those memories in detail. It’s amazing how the same trigger–like a cool night breeze–can produce completely different memories and emotions in people.

  3. I think what you are describing may be common. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t part of why I struggle with anxiety or PTSD. I have such a strong memory it is often hard to forget things I don’t want to; But in other instances it can be a wonderful thing, to remember better moments in details. 🙂

    • I can relate all too well. I haven’t been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve got something lurking in my head. Do you ever find yourself remembering the embarrassing, painful, or difficult memories in detail more often than the good ones? I tend to. Not sure if that’s “normal.” 😛

      But, I can agree that once you hit that sweet memory, a purely joyful thought, then having a strong memory doesn’t seem to bad. 🙂

  4. Wonderful post, I sometimes get flashes of things that remind me strongly of past feelings. Mostly of childhood, since I think I was much more present and less distracted as a child than I am as an adult. Possibly when my own kids grow up and move out I will get back to that state? P.S., !ow, twin boys! You are a brave man. 🙂

  5. The sense of smell connection to memory is interesting. I have a horrible memory and sense of smell. However, I have a pretty kick-ass palette and I hear that is also connected to smell. I guess I’m just a fat ass.

    Illustration of horrible memory: I went to a new high school for half a year. I hated it and was truant a lot. I knew I was going to get into trouble for truancies so I had to come up with a reason. I told the dean that a student threatened to kill me because I kept forgetting to burn the Blink 182 cd for him. They wanted me to point out the student (because I was like, I uhhh, don’t know his name). I said the kid was absent. They called me down to the office later that week. 2 cops were there. I said the kid was absent again. Next day I wasn’t at school. They called home and talked to Mom. I told Mom that I made it all up and she relayed the message. Naturally, they thought I was bad shit so I went on a weeklong trip with my sister-in-law.

    Here’s where memory comes in: I forgot that the whole thing happened until a few years ago when my mom brought it up. She had to go through all of the details of the story. You think someone would remember that. Now I gotta hit the bong to forget that memory…

    • Bongs: the real life Men in Black neurolizers.

      I skipped school a whole lot in middle and high school. Got picked up by the cops with a few friends of mine while we were climbing a dirt mound near a construction site in 8th grade. Had to go to French class with my boots caked with muddy dirt.

      Your story also reminds me of the one time I ever snitched on someone. A kid brought a gun to school (in NYC? NEVAR! 😛 ), and he showed it to everyone. I snitched on him to my Health teacher; the teacher had this huge collection of fantasy books in the back of his classroom which he let me use as a library. (He never let me borrow the Conan the Barbarian ones because they had sex in ‘em. I still took em). We were organizing his bookshelf during class and I squealed.

      During Social Studies next period, the Dean and a couple of cops took the kid away, and we never saw him again. Of course, everyone was trying to figure out who snitched (snitches get stitches), but I played along. That was in 7th grade.

      Could you pass that bong when you’re done, por favor?

      • Kudos to twelve year old you for telling a teacher. You might’ve prevented a tragedy.

        I understand that “snitches get stitches” because I watched The Wire, but I will never understand adults and teachers telling students to not tattle. How confusing is it for kids to learn to follow rules and then be reprimanded for “tattling.” Insane.

        I’ll pass the cyber vaporizer. Better for the lungs.

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