Notes on Memory

musings through the fog

My earliest childhood memory is from August 18, 1984. I see a reflection of my little self in the large mirror in my parents’ bedroom, sitting on burnt orange carpet with my legs crossed. My face has the shape of a pear; my hair is jet black, long, and straight. I am barefoot, wiggling my tiny toes. “So Cherilynn, how does it feel to be four years old?” my aunt Julie asks. I don't see her; her voice comes from the bathroom.

“It feels the same as being three,” I say as I stare at my reflection.

This memory is intact more than any other childhood memory I have; I replay it in my head like a familiar video clip on loop, and perhaps it would not be so fixed had the mirror not been there. But I don't view this memory as more precious than those memories I can't grasp, that have shapeshifted so drastically. In fact, while I'm grateful to have this memory, as I don't really recall long sequences of moments like this until my third or fourth grade years, its immutability feels unnatural.

* * * * *

I went to the second day of the championship round of the U.S. Open, which took place recently at the Olympic Club just south of San Francisco. I'm not a fan of golf, but I thought it'd be something new and interesting to experience. I was in a bit of a panic, though, reading the championship's rules—no mobile phones, portable email devices, cameras, and anything potentially disruptive.

So I mentally prepared for a day without my iPhone, as phoneless days are rare. Before we left, my boyfriend tweeted that he'd have a ringside seat to watch me self-destruct without it. It sounds silly, but being without that portal in my pocket—not knowing what the rest of the world is doing, or perhaps not being able to tell or show the rest of the world what I am doing—freaks me out a little.

As we wandered the Olympic Club sans phones and cameras, I wanted to take photographs of various tents and pavilions, the rolling hills of green, different holes of the course, and the grassy slope overlooking hole 8—a golf course version of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte—where we spent a few hours under the sun. But I didn't want to take pictures to record my first golf experience, or to compile an album of the day. I wanted to take photographs mainly to prove I was there. I hinted at this urge in a blog post on the new way I take photographs; now, consuming and owning the present moment has become more important than capturing an experience cohesively, or creating something to add to an archive.

* * * * *

Pictures or it didn't happen.

I've never liked this phrase. Yet I've become a slave to this very mode to self-document and share from moment to moment, and in a way my U.S. Open experience feels incomplete because I have no documented and shared proof that it happened. And so I wonder: What is a memory in this digital age? Why am I beginning to view a memory not photographed or tweeted—one residing solely in my mind—as unattractive? I'm a visual person, so I take mental snapshots of the places I go, keeping these images in my head. But this sort of intangible, mutable evidence seems increasingly inadequate in our world of over-sharing, and on an Internet where our traces are permanent.

It's as if undocumented memories are now less potent.

I wish this wasn't so; elusiveness is the very quality I love about (my) memory. But these days it feels as if I'm doing something wrong—or simply not doing enough—if I'm not experiencing each moment in my day with the intention of documenting and sharing it for all to see.