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As We May Remember

“...the symbolic portrayal of each concept must be such that the human can work with it and remember.”

When you touch a deeply rooted memory in your brain, you unperceptively alter it. Your mind is not the same who had a starring role in the scene, it is a mind quickly shifting to director's mode. Our most treasured memories -for better of worse- suffer structural alterations every time we revisit them. So do our brains. You think you link to a memory. You actually create a new experience, which, in turn, you will evoke, like music, only to edit loops of future memories. And round and round you go carving on the vynil of your brain.

I secretely keep a couple of paper photographs I took of my only brother about 25 years ago. They are not on any portrait in the house. They are hidden. My elder brother left this world in 2003. Since then, I have kept a lonely ritual of looking at those two photos once a year only, on his birthday. Why? Because if I saw them every day on a portrait on my desk, for instance, his image would risk becoming as meaningless as any other mundane object. But, most importantly, because the revival effect of seeing that face again in all its details would wane and I would forever lose the beauty of its effect, the sense of newness in those highly evoking traces of who he was -as well as who I was behind those lens. Those photos are like great poems for me: rereading them surpases my best word by word recall of them. I do not just see them again; I experience them again.

Yet, neuroscience would quicklycontradict me. I cannot keep old photos in the hope of making an instant eternal. Apparently, every time we revisit learnt or memorized events, we alter them by making fresh neural connections. Our autobiographical, episodic memory is not passive at all. It is one of the most creative actions our brains can engage in. The context of retrieval is key. We build new relationships with the memory of the scents, voices and photos of our most cherished times lived. Accepting that it is impossible to go back and relive, all there is left is a hyperlink between past and present, which is by no means less fascinating than the paradise lost we long for.

I think it was Virginia Woolf who said in a book here on my shelves -alas, I cannot google in it, so I will rely on my memory- that she could get a sense of sadness mixed with anxiety every time she realised that a good sentence not written at the first moment she conceived it could get lost in her mind forever. All she could be certain about, all she could distinctly remember, is that the never born sentence was a very good one, probably a great one, but sadly lost.

Writing as annotating is a process of taking snapshots of your ideas here today. Many a note in this blog has been written in an attempt to capture what my own thoughts were before I got in close contact with someone else's mind. Something important, something I did not want to forget. A prompt, a writing plan, a road not taken in my brain. So that after reading what other annotators say you may, after all, go back to your  ownfledgeling - private- thoughts looking for a spark of a lost direction. Like a sepia photo that smiles back to us from a distant time, to foster the illusion of revisiting ideas, yet imperceptively modifying the deepest layers of our thinking around them, creating new paths of thought, as we may remember.

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