Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ninety-Four: Part Twenty-Four: Wherein The Younger Me Gets To Tell You Stuff The Older Me Forgot.

Everyone has one year in their life that has a greater impact on them than any other year. Mine was 1994. From time to time, I'll recap that year. This is part 24. Click here for a table of contents.

A big part of thinking back to what I've always viewed as a momentous year is trying to figure out what my memories tell me about me -- and what my memories tell me about my memories. How accurate are memories, really? I wonder that all the time -- and wonder how good memory is, too, as each day recedes back from me and I forget more and more about the life I've lived while I live my life.

It's hard to test how accurate memories are, though; what are they tested against? Other people's memories? Pictures? With the ease of videotaping things nowadays, memories might be less tested and more reliable in the future, as everything gets recorded and put on Youtube in snippets set to music we liked: Our memories as personal music videos:

What about testing memories against our own memories, but more fresh? Crazy, you say? Crazy?

Not so much, not so crazy... if you've got a good record of your memories. The record I had of my memories, though, is gone -- the red notebook journal I kept of 1994 thrown out in 2000 when I thought I'd never need it or want it again, ready to move on without looking back. Then I decided I wanted to look back and capture my memories after all, but had nothing to check them against...

... until I got some old letters back. When I was in Morocco, I wrote weekly to my Mom and sister, who lived together at the time. They were long letters, longer than average, detailing what I'd been doing the week before and commenting on anything that popped into my head while I was struggling with drinking the local water, not speaking the local languages, and being further away from home than I'd ever been before.

I'd forgotten about those letters, mostly -- until they were mailed back to me after my Mom died last year. I got a bundle of the letters I'd sent to her, letters she'd saved for 16 years. In effect, Mom served as an interim post office, holding those letters for me -- so it was as if I'd sent letters to my future self, letters that I could then read and reflect on who and where I was, sixteen years later.

And when I say sixteen years later, that doesn't sound all that long, but really, it's a lifetime: When I wrote these letters, I was 25 years old, and had little experience with life. When I read the letters again, I was a 41-year-old man with five kids, a marriage, and a half-lifetime of experience behind me. More than 1/3 of my life passed between writing the letters and reading them again, and I was amazed at how little I'd changed, and amazed at how much I'd changed, at the same time.

And also amazed at how fallible my memory is. For instance, the first letter is dated May 31, 1994 -- or, as I wrote it then, "31 May 94; Tues" -- which surprised me because (a) that's a pretty cool way to write a date and I should go back to doing that, and (b) I thought I hadn't gone to Morocco until later in June; I can't believe I was already there in May of 1994.

The letters I wrote typically had song quotes on the top of the page, from songs I liked that I thought also had something to do with the subject of the letters. Over the next few posts, I'll re-type those letters in here, and add in thoughts as I go along.


"We thought that everything we could possibly do was right..."-- Sinead O'Connor, Troy.

31 May 94; Tues

Kate & Mom--

(Sorry if this is a bit rambling & confused; culture shock and jet lag still haven't worn off).

Well, it's been a full week since I came to the 3rd world. Quite an experience, to say the least. To be truthful, it hasn't been totally fun, although it's always interesting. I'm very homesick right now; it's been a hectic week.

The flight was okay; I was a bit nervous taking off from Milwaukee, but by the time we landed in Pittsburgh, I was Mr-Experienced-Traveler. It's not all that exciting, but it is a lot faster.

[Present-day Me Says: I now find flying far more exciting, but not necessarily because I'm up in the air. I like to fly because I like to see the different view of the ground, a perspective I never get. I like to see clouds from above. And more than all of that, I like that, once on a plane, there's absolutely nothing else I should be doing: I can't clean the house, rake the leaves, write a brief, try a case, fix the TV... just nothing to do but sit and relax and read. But back then, that was my whole life. I had no responsibilities then, no real chores other than to attend enough of school to make sure I passed and learned something. So flying wouldn't have served as a respite from that.]

The JFK-to-Casablanca trip was really rough; we had to keep our seatbelts on most of the time because of turbulence. Then, Casablanca was fogged in, but he pilot still tried to land twice. It was sort of like being on a roller coaster with 500 other people. I had to have other students explain to me what was going on, because all the flight announcements were in French & Arabic.

[Present Day Me, again: I'd completely forgotten about that, too. I actually thought we'd landed in Rabat, where we'd stayed most of the trip. There's more to come from this letter; we're only through 2/3 of page 1. But that's it for today.]

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