Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can you hear her voice?

It's hard to define and quantify the ever-expanding number of events that occur in our daily lives. In one day I may spend hours reading a book and sure, that makes that 12 hour day memorable. But other days are filled with hopping to and fro, from activity to activity, without a minute to pause and reflect on the value of an individual moment.

This is why I've learned to associate many of my most treasured (and sometimes not so treasured, but still somehow memorable) reminiscences with songs and recordings.

Thinking in pictures for the most part, I tend to have trouble remembering dialogue from throughout my life. One of the most tragic moments for me was when I realized that I couldn't quite remember what my mom's voice sounded like since it had been so long since she'd passed.

That is when I learned that sensory memory for me is not entirely controllable, but I also taught myself that I don't forfeit all rights to my subconscious. Sad about the fact that I couldn't recall listening to my mom, I watched home movies. In them, I was an infant and my mom was in front of the camera talking to me, saying my name and trying to gain my attention.

A few years before, hearing her voice wouldn't have elicited much of a reaction in me. Even though she had gone, I was still very much aware of every facet of her existence. But when I heard her voice for the first time after feeling I'd practically forgotten it, I absolutely broke down.

I've learned over the years that even though I haven't been equipped with very good auditory memory, that deliberateness and repetition can cement a sound in my psyche that I never thought I could recall again.

At 12 years old, I was in the passenger seat as my dad drove home from teaching a piano lesson. He had just been burned a copy of Wicked the musical on CD. When he popped in the disc, we had less than 15 minutes to listen to it before arriving home. As we arrived at the house, "The Wizard and I" came on.

Instead of leaving the car, we sat for the rest of the song, both in our own worlds as the amazing music played on. And I never felt more connected to a sound or to a moment.

The music heralded a passion in both of us that gave my feelings in that instant more intense than I'd ever felt before. Sitting in a car in near darkness, with only the street lamps and the light of the CD player to distract from the auditory stimulation, I was in a world where reality and sensory memory would finally converge and form a logical path. I was no longer required to think in just pictures, I could think in songs too.

When I became Editor in Chief of my high school newspaper, I finally felt like I'd accomplished something big. Basking in the hugeness of the moment, I turned a song on my iPod that I believed fit my internal feelings. Playing Taylor Swift's "Change" may not have been an obvious choice, but it was a strong female pop vocal driven song that cemented that moment in my mind to this day.

Auditory memory is not entirely on its own. My very visual nature has the ability to pair the sound of the song in my thoughts with an image of walking through my high school campus, finally with a reason to hold my head high and feel proud and ecstatic.

I've always had trouble with memory. I tend to be selective with what I commit for long-term recall, usually resulting in my defense or complaints that I am just the most forgetful person on this planet.

But the problem for me is that experiences are related in images and fleeting internal explanations. Only with the addition of sound are experiences magnified tenfold and made to feel as though they can actually be remembered and retold without extrapolation.

In the past I've been known to fabricate a person's presence into my stories. I'll be reminding someone of something that I'm sure they experienced with me and then ask "don't you remember that?" When I realize they don't I have to take a step back and think about the problem of how I perceive events.

Instead of awareness of all facets of an experience, I'm very centrally focused on the concrete and unfleeting, the "see it to believe it" rather than the ethereal inputs that get lost after a few moments. Sound bytes for me are easily forgotten, the people around me (unless I can visualize their concrete presence in the memory) are also not fully memorable, but with iPods and CDs and voice recorders and home videos, I've been able to latch onto this new form of reminiscence.

If a few years down the road I find myself being nostalgic about my mom, I will be comforted in knowing one thing: because of the significance in having lost that sensory memory in the first place and the powerful experience of having it retrieved for me recently, I will never ever again forget her voice.

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