Tag Archives: Memory

Lest We Forget

21 Mar

One of my favorite words in the English language is “cenotaph,” a memorial for someone who died but NOT at a gravesite. There’s lots of these, and most of the time, our eyes glaze over these. So who are these memorials for?

I personally love statues–as a history buff, I like to be reminded about what had happened in the past, and find out more. As a Navy brat, I honor those who served. However, not everyone thinks the same way as I do. We make a lot less statues these days. So when you find a memorial, it’s usually much older.

They’re also not cheap. Which means someone thought enough of this person(s) to raise the money for them. Veterans memorials are easy to understand. Those who served want people to know that their neighbors gave their lives in a conflict that they themselves served in. It’s a chance for them to remember their brothers and sisters who didn’t come back. It’s hard to do that; I’m a member of a veterans’ organization, and at the bar every night at 7 pm, there’s a toast that everyone repeats:

To those that went,
To those who are there still,
To those who have not returned,
To those who never will.

7 o’Clock Toast

It is a very moving, very simple ceremony, and I love participating when I can. However, you want to know that your sacrifice was honored, which is why the WWII memorial in DC was so important. Veterans were flown out to see their memorial.

However, then there are the memorials to those who died a long time before. Take a less controversial example – the Alamo Cenotaph. This was built in 1936 to honor the Battle of the Alamo a hundred years before. So they died and any kids of theirs had died long ago. So what were they celebrating? Statehood? History? Sure, but there’s a more insidious remembrance of that. They were saying, “We’re Texas. We won our independence, and we’re still independent!” On the other end of the spectrum, it’s not an accident that California’s flag says “California Republic” (even though they didn’t even bother with a war… or a government lasting longer than a month).

But what the father wants to remember, the son wants to forget. Trust me, if someone put up a statue to honor the Capital Hill occupation in Seattle last year, fifty years from now, some group would want to tear it down because the protestors were “slaveholders” of dogs and cats, and ate the flesh of animals for their food.

As you can see, I’m torn on the issue of memorials. I certainly don’t want one for myself. But what do you think? Are statues a waste of time; better to honor the living than the dead? Or do they serve a purpose in our society, regardless of their intent? Let me know in the comments below!

And after that, why not check out one of my books! Or if the $1.99 is too rich for your blood, download some of my stories. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Death Day

11 Mar

It’s a weird anniversary and even weirder to remember. My mother died twenty eight years ago tomorrow. It was sudden, unexpected, and changed my life forever. But I have trouble remembering it every year. Why can something so profound be forgettable?

I didn’t grow up with elaborate remembrance rituals for the dead. The belief I grew up with is that they’re in a better place, that there was a purpose for it, and that we need to celebrate their life. None of which helps the grieving person at the moment, but what can you say? “Life is chaos, be kind?”

And at the time, truly nothing can help, except being there for the person in that moment. However, at some point, we have to move on with our life and not wallow in our grief. I return to my mother’s gravesite every time I come back to my hometown, and because she’s not the only one, I visit my grandparents, my brother, and two of my childhood friends graves as well.

However, it was much later in life that I was introduced to the concept of “yahrzeit,” or the anniversary of a loved one’s death. It’s a simple ceremony–you light a 25-hour candle, say a prayer, sometimes put up their picture, and welcome the spirit of your departed into the house. Think of it like Dia de los Muertos, but with a flexible schedule.

During that day, I feel as if the spirit of my departed one is with us in the house, sharing our lives, and it’s a very moving experience. Is the actual spirit with us or does it just force me to remember their lives for one day? It doesn’t matter. It reminds us that those who got us there are not lost in our memory–even if I forgot it last year–and that they can be with us.

I do this with all my departed relatives, as does my wife, and have all the pictures nearby in a box. I do need to buy another candle this year, but since I’m writing about it, it’s more likely I’ll remember this year. Sure, I could do it anytime, but there’s more of a connection on the actual date than any other time. Eventually, no one is left to remember them–and at some point, us–but as long as we remember their stories, they are more than just a name on a page or a stone somewhere.

Well, that’s depressing. Do you do something similar? Do you find comfort in grave sites or memorial services? Is it a waste of time? Let me know in the comments below!

And while you’re at it, check out some of my books! Or if $1.99 is too high a hurdle for you, download some of my stories for free!

“Then I will be the Singer and not the Song…”

29 Dec

It’s funny what will strike you at weird moments. My son and I were watching a TV show from about 10 years ago and a song was used in the background that took me back to when I first heard it. How is it that memory is keyed so haphazardly?

It was actually a really good cover of that song–Roll the Dice by Beth Orton–my friend burned the entire album off Napster (yes, it’s THAT old) after I exclaimed how much I liked one of her songs. Interestingly enough, I really like the Superpinkymandy album, which was all moody and really innovative. Then she went more pop-ish and I lost interest. (shrug) So it goes. That happened to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Loved their albums up to when they did the Friends songs, which was far more pop, and they lost everything that I liked about them. But hey, they probably sold more records, so what do I know? 🙂

Getting back to the song–the cover was really good, and keyed to someone else’s memory–it was used first on an episode of the O.C. (a show I have never seen) five years earlier than the show I was watching, and apparently, people really enjoyed it there. My guess is that although we could–in theory–recall every memory we’ve ever had, only the stuff that has an emotion tied to it can come faster to the surface. I mean, if I really try, I can start thinking about my childhood home, start imagining what was in there, and then remember certain mundane things that happened there.

But, of course, I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t used the stronger memory of the place–the emotion of other memories tied to that location–to find the other memories hiding below the surface. For example, if I need to think about the two years I spent in Lawrence, Kansas, I instantly remembering cooking the green peas that we grew in our backyard, because that was an accomplishment for a six-year-old me. Then it gets to making grilled cheese sandwiches with dad, playing with Rachel and Stephanie up the hill, and drawing pictures on the cinder blocks that some construction firm so kindly left for us for four weeks. 🙂 I can’t remember what our living room was like, but I remember the kitchen, my bedroom (vaguely), and my dad’s office.

So I get to the how–now to the why. Why is our memory coded like that? My thought: it keeps us sane. If we had instant recall of everything we ever did, my God, would that drive us crazy! I remember watching a great documentary called Born on a Blue Day, which is all about an autistic man who can do complex math very quickly and can learn languages incredibly fast. An amazing accomplishment to be sure, but it comes at the cost of being unable to function in other parts of life. He has a functional disability–other people with the same condition can remember the weather on any day of their life, but only to the effect that it was hot, or rainy, or cold. As superpowers go, he got the short-end of the stick.

Have you got a better theory? Can you remember extreme detail about mundane things? Have you been blessed/cursed with an eidetic memory? Let me know about it in the comments below!

The Squid Zone

20 Nov

Koreans love eating squid. They like it raw, cooked, fried, grilled, ground up into a little powder and drunk with hot water. But it’s only when you enter a soccer stadium and see the sign, written in English, that you realize… you’ve entered “The Squid Zone.”

I guess that’s a good metaphor for the “expatriate experience.” I only lived in Korea for a year, so compared to some of my friends, my knowledge of that country is limited… and now, twenty years old. My “two truths and a lie” is always, “I partied with a quarter million Koreans on New Years Eve 2000.” Also took me two hours to get back to my hotel afterwards because they closed the Metro at midnight.

I worked at Taejon Christian International School in Daejeon, which is about two hours south of Seoul. Again, with the high speed rail built for the World Cup (which I also missed), you might make it one hour.

I had the opportunity to watch a game between the Taejon Citizens(?) play… someone in the old stadium that had a statue commemorating the Independence Movement with a heroic Korean standing in 20’s clothes, holding a grenade in his hand. So… that’s different. Then I’m going to my seat and I see the “Squid Zone” sign–in English–and had that seared into my memory.

They didn’t sing the national anthem–they played it, everyone stood, but no one sang. The hype guy had the Republic of Korean flag painted on his face and carried a little cymbal that he dinged to pep up the crowd. I honestly don’t know if he was hired by the team or just did this for kicks. I remember that the Taejon team lost, not surprising, since they were down in the standings that year.

Taejon (or Daejeon, they changed the official transliteration after I left) was probably the best place I could live. It was a “small town” of a million people, but because it was so packed together in the mountain valley, I could walk to the other side of the city in half an hour. I could reach nature easily, even when surrounded by multi-story apartment buildings. I stripped naked for hot spring baths and could still eat Pizza Hut, but frankly, they had NO Mexican food. I craved Taco Bell when I got home.

I still prefer Korean ramen over Japanese–there was a ramen machine right outside my apartment. I loved being able to go to cafes and have omelets. Street vendors with corn dogs. PC-bongs (computer cafes) where you could play games when you wanted to get out of the house. And going to movie theaters to watch English movies with Korean subtitles. I danced in the streets of Seoul at the drum festival and watched Armed Forces TV.

I love travel–usually hated the jobs that allowed me to do it–but I was so happy to live a life less ordinary… if only for a few years. Have you been an ex-pat? What’s the first thing you discover about living in a new place? Let me know in the comments below.

Most Favored Mug

14 Nov

There’s something comforting about using the same coffee mug every day. It’s a ritual that is sacred upon waking. It gets the flem out of my throat. But what is it about having the same mug that is so important?

My current coffee mug is my Dukakis ’88 election mug that I… ahem, liberated from my (Great) Aunt Nancy. I thought it was freakin’ hilarious It’s actually quite small–people in the late eighties tended to have smaller cup sizes and smaller food portions. I can call that from the Hardee’s (you would call it Carl’s Jr. or Roy Rogers) Rise-and-Shine Biscuit mugs that Aunt Nancy also had that are exactly the same size. (By the way, the cinnamon raisin biscuits were amazing and a rare treat growing up.)

So it’s actually rather inconvenient to use, but then again, I just carry my giant insulated carafe upstairs now to refill it. I’m already developing a history with this mug. It replaced the Secretary of State mug I bought at a yard sale in back in my hometown on the one of the rare times I returned home. However, that has been exiled back to the cabinet, because it never gained my love. The seal embossed on it was cool, but hard to see.

Even that was a replacement for my other two mugs that I got from an Army-Navy surplus store in downtown Galveston, Texas when I was on one of my contracts back when I was travelling. These are what military men would frequently get whenever they changed assignments or finished a tour. My dad has a whole box full of them since you changed tours every two years or less, so they weren’t particularly sentimental to him. Nowadays, they give out challenge coins which are shiny, cool, and much easier to carry with you between deployments.

I loved those damn mugs. As you can see from the picture above, they usually come with a name embossed, which didn’t really help me, so I had to search for a while through the pile of them before I found two that weren’t personalized. One was the Army’s helicopter training squadron out in New Mexico, which had a cool seal of an eagle stringing a bow. Being a teacher, I found that particularly nice. When that broke, I used the other, which had the more generic US Pacific Command. Then that broke and I lost that part of my history forever.

And perhaps that is the key–it’s a connection to something in the past that you think about fondly. In the case of my military mugs, it was both being a Navy brat and being a travelling consultant. The Epic University mug (that you see in the same picture) was used as a coffee mug back in my days starting working for hospitals, because it reminded me of fond memories travelling to Madison, Wisconsin during a blizzard to learn medical software. But that original one I got broke–I picked this replacement up on a later contract, so it didn’t have that same mystic connection.

Am I the only one? Tell me about your most favored mug or tell me why that’s silly in the comments below!

Wait, I Thought I Read That…

22 Sep

I’ve been rereading one of my favorite book series over the weekend and I hit book six. Within a couple chapters, I realized, “Wait! I’ve never read this before!” I was sure I had. In fact, I’ve read the next three books – how did I forget to read this?!

This is an extension of something I’ve just learned is called the Mandela Effect. Apparently, it’s named after the belief held by many people that Nelson Mandela died in prison. In fact, he was released from prison, became the first black president of South Africa, and died long after.

Did you ever watch Moonraker (1979), one of the cheesiest James Bond films of all time? If you grew up in the 80’s, it was shown over and over on broadcast TV, so you couldn’t help but watch it. Anyway, there’s a scene where Jaws, the henchman who will not die, is pulled from the wreckage of his latest attempt to kill Bond by a small blond haired woman. He smiles with his patented metal chompers, she smiles with her braces.

Except she doesn’t. You can see from the picture above that her teeth are perfect. Your mind put the braces in there. You remember reading the Berenstain Bears as a kid? No you didn’t, you read the Berenstein Bears. Unless you grew up in New York City, you weren’t used to people having names ending in “-stein,” so your mind changed them to “-stain.”

So there’s only two answers to this. One, you’re in an alternate dimension (a la Sliders) that’s close to the one you started in. Or two, your memory is faulty. In fact, your memory is not very good at all. When a political candidate… let’s say, embellishes a story, especially a story that can be easily checked from existing footage – they’re not lying. When they originally told the story, they added a detail to make it more exciting. Then when they told the story, that detail was kept in. Then they added another detail. The longer you tell the story, the more you believe it, until finally, your memory puts in the detail that wasn’t there before.

I didn’t read Kushiel’s Mercy because I didn’t own it at the time. The second book ended on a good note so I thought that was the end of that trilogy (forgetting it was only the second book). So when the next trilogy came out, I read that, and there was minimal reference to the previous book because… well, the author set it two hundred years in the future. I wasn’t confused. So I just assumed I read Mercy.

As Petros Papadakis is fond of quoting, “All the world has become a lie, and the lie is the truth.” Of course, I probably got the quote wrong. 🙂 Where have you noticed your memory being wrong? Were you as surprised as I was that Dolly didn’t have braces? Have you read Jacqueline Carey’s steamy series? Let me know in the comments below!

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