Day 208: The Man and the Total Recall; ‘Scent’

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still see the deep, rich hazel of her eyes. I can feel her hair tickling my neck as she rests her head on my shoulders. If I take a deep enough breath I can still catch a slight trace of her scent in the air. Sweet with a tinge of melancholy. In the most profound and all-encompassing silences of the night, her laughter echoes, and in my weakest and most desperate moments, I can hear her calling me ‘baby’ again.

Image result for closing eyes gif

That is the beauty, and the burden, of memory. What’s more, as a storyteller, a writer, a creator, I cling to these scars like bubbling wells when I might feel thirsty or starved for inspiration. I am, for the most part, free of the emotions of these memories. When they first started popping up, I felt like a lost lonely little child in a haunted house, surrounded by the ghosts of something long dead and gone. But I’ve grown up and realized that these are benign ghosts, more like tragic tapes on permanent playback than harmful poltergeists. They are no longer intruders upon my house, but fixtures, like a chandelier that creaks in the wind or a squeaky floorboard. I can walk and weave my way through them, letting them pop up and occupy my mind for a few seconds before floating away, like wisps in the wind. I don’t think I could ever truly be entirely free of them; the memories are too distinct, too significant, too much a part of my life to be forgotten, like the name of my favorite stuffed bear when I was a tiny baby. What life, love, or longing is gone, but Beautiful remains.

And I’ve often wondered if I’d be better off forgetting it all. Freeing myself of even the seemingly benign burden of slight reminders. To say goodbye permanently to the good, the bad, and the ugly of what, seven years more or less of an intertwined story? Would my life be better, would any of our lives be better, if we possessed the ability and the luxury of wiping from our memory all of the failed, faded, or lost loves of our lives.

Now this is not a new concept. And it’s heavily and thoroughly investigated in one of my
all-time favorite movies, it’s come up before once or twice on the blog I believe, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After a painful breakup two former lovers undergo a procedure to erase each other from their minds, only to run into each other and contemplate the possibilities of being together, knowing what could possibly await them again.

I mean, the immediate appeal is there, for sure. There would be no painful reminders. No fear of going back to some place and falling into some emotionally deep memory that you can barely get yourself out of. In the beginning of it all I might have gladly taken the option. I would have found myself in more places around my home, places I’d barred for fear of feeling too attached to the memories they brought up. Anyone who’s gone through a painful breakup can relate to that desire of wanting to just be rid of it all. Usually it is because we focus so much on the good times, the perfect moments, the snapshots, that we then idealize and gild them until they are placed on a pedestal of unrealistic proportions. The more we focus on these moments, the more we miss them, the deeper the hurt. And yet we go back to them, again and again. Why? Because a familiar pain is better than an unknown one. Why not wallow in the familiar sting of long lost love when the alternative is to go back out into the world and open yourself up to newer, potentially deeper, scars? So, burdened with the memory, we live in pain. Wouldn’t forgetting free us, then? Wouldn’t it allow us that blissful ignorance, hopeful optimism, necessary to chase after the love we once wanted? But it doesn’t work so well. Case in point, look at the characters in the movie. Look at Kirsten Dunst playing the doe-eyed assistant in love with her married doctor boss Tom Wilkinson. Spoiler alert: near the film’s conclusion we learn that the two of them have had an affair already previously, and here they are in the same situation once more. ‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’. What if the price of forgetting our follies is being stuck, like those ghosts, in permanent playback, doomed to constantly chase after the same, make the same mistakes, and run away from the same problems?

Up until now, I’ve lived in that sort of realm of possibility. I’ve only ever wondered, ‘what if I could forget’. And it is partly because I’ve never had an alternative to consider. Until that is, I watched Netflix’s show Black Mirror, and in particular the episode The Entire History of You. A wonderful piece of technology from the future, only referred to as a ‘grain’, allows its users to capture everything they ever see and play it back either in their minds or on screens in homes and at offices. An infinite playback reel going back to infancy, capturing every moment, every nuance, in picture-perfect real-life definition. It lets people replay interviews to analyze how well it went, watch a baby’s feed to make sure the babysitter was gentle and safe, or even play back those better moments of past relationships. But total recall comes at a price, the price of security, privacy, trust, but most surprisingly, happiness.

As one pro-grain user in the episode says, ‘half the organic memories you have are junk’. It can’t be trusted. How many memories have we blown out of proportions. How many childhood lakes as large as oceans and filled with pristine beautiful blue waters have turned out to be shallow mucky ponds in adulthood? Wouldn’t it be better to have preserved everything as it truly was. There’d be no doubt, no worry. I could replay over and over, again and again, catch myself browsing ‘redos’ in my mind until I go dizzy. I’d catch the moments in picture perfect clarity, to bask in past glory or to fanaticize over failures. But then again…that’s the problem. I’d catch the moments in picture perfect clarity, or fanatacize over my failures. There is this wonderfully poignant scene where the main couple are making actual real love in real life, but the movements are generic, uninspired, mechanical, their eyes glazed over as if possessed, because rather than engage in the now, they are both independently playing ‘redos’ in their mind of better, more passionate, earlier times of having sex rather than trying to capture that now. And how many of us would be guilty of choosing to relive the past rather than appreciate the present. And with permanent records, how many could resist the temptation to go back to fantasies and memories of past loves. Or grill our partners on their past. With the power and the ability to project exact memories, how many of us could resist digging into that even knowing full well how painful those memories could be? The history of your partner is right there at your fingertips. You know it could possibly hurt you, maybe even too much to handle, and yet…the temptation. The possibility. The all-too-familiar pain.

And so I pose to you this conundrum. What would you rather have. In what world would you rather live. How best do you move on. Would you rather forget everything after a breakup, or have everything captured forever. Total recall, or total wipe.

And, before some of you answer, while you are contemplating this over your morning toast and tea, I say you must choose one or the other. Making a choice, to remember or to forget, reveals a lot. Remaining neutral does not. So, no ‘neither, because I believe you can make new and better memories with the right person that will override past memories and I need to remember the past to learn from my mistakes’. Sorry, can’t play both sides. Hahah. (Just teasing, but yes, you will need to make a choice. :P)

Day 208

Man: 176 Loneliness: 32

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29 thoughts on “Day 208: The Man and the Total Recall; ‘Scent’

      • Isn’t that what people do, though? Except for those rare, extraordinary people who do actually live in the moment? We explore our memories to see if we could have improved a situation by a word or action. While that revision doesn’t help that relationship, it does help the ones that come after. It’s the reason why we study history, albeit this is on a more personal level. Those who don’t examine their past are doomed to repeat it. From world events to personal relationships, it remains true. 🙂

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        • True. But I think it’s different now with technology involved. For example, before, if you were just lost in say, nostalgia, maybe you’d just think back, reflect, but you’d keep doing, moving forward. Learning from your mistakes implies you’re going forward doing something new that could be improved by knowledge of the past. But you’ve got people who do nothing but look at old photos of themselves in high school because they can’t accept what they’ve become or are obsessed with past relationships and playing over and over the handpicked perfect moments that they’re convinced no real present or future relationship could equal it.

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  1. Funny you should write this. How people remember the same exact event is totally different. I don’t know if I would want to remember everything in detail. I think your mind filters what you can’t handle sometimes. I remember some things I would truly like to forget forever, because of the pain they caused me. So yes, a puzzle.

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    • Definitely. Because we aren’t machines, when we remember things we definitely put our own spin on them; our memories are more emotion than fact. And when we recall them, how we recall them, and how often, all affect how vivid or blurry those memories are. Organic memory is a funky thing.

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  2. Easy. Remember it all.
    And hey, did you just really do that? The first four paragraphs were like four stanzas in a poem! Whoo!
    Anyway, I’d rather remember it all. Idk if you remember but like how my “Escape” makes me feel everything from start to finish. It’s always a reminder that there is always beauty in a tragic fallout somewhere.

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  3. (BTW, in settings you can alter the number of replies a comment can have)
    So many thoughts swirling in my head! Where to begin?
    On a personal level, each relationship provides a person with an opportunity for personal growth through interaction. Even the ending of a relationship provides that. I don’t believe that technology, except for the mere fact that it has provided the current population with more downtime and therefore more opportunities to contemplate navals, has more direct influence unless we allow it to. It is our choice to seek those pictures as it might have been the choice of a Shakespeare contemporary to seek out the letter or sonnet written and obsess.
    The phrase time heals all wounds could really be the brain evolves to protect and grow. When we’re still fresh from heartbreak, we may be unable to really view the relationship for what it was. By contemplation and reviewing, we can see situations within the relationship that were unhealthy, that were co-dependent, that stunted us. As we recognize those situations and their truth, we can create a better balance between simply the good and bad.
    No, not everyone moves on. Yes, there will always be someone living their glorydays of being the high school qb or cheerleader, of what they perceived to be the perfect relationship. But how *really* would wiping their memories help? If they have nothing to base their current existence on, who are they and what do they become?

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    • Ahah. Thanks for the info. I actually didn’t know that. I want to make sure my blog and myself are as available to comment and reaction as possible. Changed it just now.
      So I think the most important thing here, as in most cases, is moderation. As in, choosing ‘total recall’ really only works if you are someone who can moderate usage. Like you said, it could be a valuable tool for growth and introspection. (And litigation to be honest. Joke, hahah.) The most important thing you said is ‘choice’. We ‘choose’ when to access those memories. And like you mentioned with the mind, we usually also ‘protect’ ourselves after really sad moments like say loss or heartbreak. A sort of blinder, or rose-colored glasses, depending on if you want to avoid or fixate.
      So my only thing is, trying to show the pros and cons of both sides, a world of ‘total recall’ could be one where, given the choice, people might never move on. See like you say, our mind starts to evolve and change and with it, our memories. We begin to reframe them, adjust the lens and go ‘ah, yes, well, now I remember it was much more like x y or z’. It depends on how moderate the user is. Maybe you have bad memory and you’d love the idea of say, looking at a grocery list once and then just being able to use a remote to search your memory and bring it back up on screen to see it again. But imagine all those lost souls who honestly feel their glory days are behind them. Would we suddenly have a whole section of the population lock themselves in their rooms just hitting that replay button. Or insecure or paranoid lovers. Wanting to analyze every moment, every glance, who they were looking at when and why. Could we trust ourselves remembering everything. Could we handle that objective truth. I think it’s just fun to contemplate, not really picking a side. I just like thinking about ‘huh how could this go terribly wrong’. Hahah.
      And to the second point, isn’t that a bit like ‘nature vs nurture’? Are we really only made up of our past experiences (nurture)? Can we not rely on some natural, uninfluenced preferences (nature)? And either way, much like total recall, memory wiping would be a choice. To use as often or with moderation, based on the user. Let’s say you forget every single bad relationship. Would that make you better or worse in future relationships. Now see that’s interesting…

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      • I think that this is the fictional topic for your next nano novel!
        I like what you have to say. I definitely agree on the moderation bit. If we had the ability to just wipe our memories and given that we have good days and bad and then on one of the bad, we just went: enough, and wiped all of the memories of that relationship away. And then the next day…what would that be? (To me that’s the sadness I felt from Eternal Sunshine.)
        I personally believe we’re influenced by the past and the present, with more emphasis on the past. However, this presumes that we are open. Some people aren’t open to change (fear?) and I think that they are the ones who get left behind. But even that becomes a choice.
        Ever written a sci fi novel? heh! Time to start outlining!

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        • I’ve never written, or even read, now that I think about it, a sci-fi novel, no. Hahah. I love sci-fi movies and shows though. When it’s done right they can really capture a sense of wonder and amazement and I think, hope. ‘Look at what we might accomplish!’
          I agree with how you felt about Eternal Sunshine. I remember the scene when Joel goes to the Lacuna clinic and I see the people in there, they aren’t happy. Before or after the procedure, it doesn’t make them happier or better people. If anything, without that pain, without that opportunity, it makes them…empty, pitiful.
          Even as I am in this process of changing and reinventing myself, this is more a product of my past (leaving it, learning from it, viewing it differently) than it is of my present, even if all my efforts are in the now. No matter what, we just can’t get away from our past. Unless that is, we get to leave it completely behind! Dun dun dun.

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  4. “, would any of our lives be better, if we possessed the ability and the luxury of wiping from our memory all of the failed, faded, or lost loves of our lives.”
    I think that these lines are so beautiful because I often go through the same thing you are describing but thenI remember this. that I would not be anything without all of those past memories and pains.

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