Trying Not to Dismember the Present

Sleep. I really could use a good night’s uninterrupted sleep. Sometimes I wonder if my life doesn’t balance out somehow through sleep. As though I have a preferred, set point of stress that my body will work to maintain. If my days are relaxed and pleasant, my nights will be filled with pinched dreams and ominous atmospheres.

They say that our memories are not recorded like video snippets in a file system somewhere in our brains. But rather: each time we “re-member” we construct a new version of the memory. I wonder then if each incidence of a specific memory is significantly altered from the last without our noticing? Without us having an ability to notice. It must, right? This is what we know to be true. And not only are we not able to be objective, but that our subjective truth has no through-line in time. It is immediate and ephemeral.

We re-member rather than dis-member our memories. Our stories.

A few days ago I was captured by a video clip of a dancer. Utterly charmed. I shared it with students as a way to illustrate some of Laban’s ideas about dynamics in movement. Then I had a dream. And now I can’t look at the video. Or think of the video without becoming physically and emotionally upset. Something – some gesture, some facial expression: a smile – stitched itself into an atmosphere of a childhood memory while I slept.

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

And here is the rub: how to let it be. How to know that there is this dancer’s smile in the world and know that it will rush over me as sticky and ambivalent as menstrual blood – and just let it be, making no attempt to tame all this wildness with a story?

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  1. Can’t begin to say how much I love this contemplation, Ren. I think of my own compulsive returns to memory (as if memories were a place–and sometimes, I guess they are), but they remain nether-neverlands at that. And they are knotted with nightmares, daytime anxiety spikes, the running script in the brain and in the blood that doesn’t stop, unless you touch something outside of your body, pay attention to something that is not you, to get outside. But then we have moments, too, where we should just experience it, on its own sublingual terms.

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