I was in a taxi the other day and heard ‘The Way We Were’ by Barbara Streisand on the radio. As my mind, like every mind, works by association, it began a Rolodex spinning process of many thoughts and memories surrounding that song’s history, and its history related to my own history. When I recall first hearing it, learning the words, making fun of it, have it be meaningful – it was all there, in an instant.
However, the words that struck me most were those of ‘misty water-colored memories’ – both because of the mind’s role in memory and the situation I find myself at the moment. Moving house after a very long time, I have been confronted with my past in a very tangible way, mainly in the form of piles of uniformly sized boxes piled up to the ceiling. And over the past months I’ve also reconnected with a number of people who have played a role in my past at one point or other – and have been faced with the intangibles (but no less important) of times gone by.
Are they real? What have you painted?
Now I love to go to art galleries and see beauty in all forms. And one of the things that I like best about paintings, and art in general, is that they are a rendition of reality – sometimes abstract, sometimes romantic… but always an interpretation made through the artist. So it is with memories. You might experience something that five other people have experienced and you’ll get six different stories or perspectives on what happened. You may have heard the ‘fisherman’s tale’ of the caught fish (or one that got away) that gets bigger with each telling. In families, quirky little incidents become legends. Past relationships become clouded – good or bad, depending on the context… The mind retains all experiences and things learned. Non-emotional facts are more likely to be recalled ‘as is’ (handy for math exams and phone numbers), yet emotionally bound events are often skewed. The first step in understanding our present situation is by acknowledging that our past is a combination of both arts and science of the mind, and that our interpretation of our history is a mix between fact and fantasy.
What are they worth?
In the moving process there were lots of ‘tucked away’ things that come to light – the ‘stuff’ that has had such a comfortable space at the back corner of the bottom shelf, now came out to be reckoned with. And I have been faced with items that certainly need to be dealt with, simply because they weren’t processed earlier. There are bits and pieces that I look at now and think, “What was I keeping that for?” And then there are items that may have some ‘record’ in my life – charting the highs (and lows) of time gone by. These were giving me pause for thought. What physical manifestations of our memory past do we need to hold on to? Museums reveal that certain items retained can advance our understanding and appreciation of the past through everyday items and extraordinary things of beauty. Do we require a ‘museum’ to our own life – for others or ourselves? And how does this relate to the less ‘material’ issues of people and relationships in our past? I’ve been guilty of holding on to things a little longer than necessary – a skill observed from others but perfected myself. Yet I’m realising more and more that our defining moments require little to no ephemeral token – and their greatest asset is to serve as an impartial referee when others and we may diverge in viewpoint on the ‘misty watercolors’ of memory.
“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced… and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.” Susan B. Anthony
Is it time to paint another picture?
After having tossed some of the items that I have deemed ‘easy, no-brainer throws’, it seemed to be easier to let go of other things – because it follows that the mind does better with practice. I’ve begun to look at these items as an interesting ‘Jennifer revival’, letting me know where I’ve been, all the experiences I’ve had and reminding me of all the strengths and talents I’ve let peep through at different points in my life. By my letting go of these items, or indeed revising viewpoints on the people of the past, it is neither forgetting nor sidelining – it is merely putting it in its right place. And in doing so, allows for another picture to be painted. One that better reflects that ‘reality’ of the present – as long as we remember that our reality is based solely on our interpretations that culminate in this moment. So what does that mean? That our present is fleeting, before it becomes our past, and our future is unwritten but full of possibilities. When we think and focus on the direction of our dreams, whatever the present reality, then we set ourselves in that direction, and invariably hit closer to the mark than if we went on the assumption that now was the final indication of the height of our potential and existence.
So how do we create this new masterpiece?
As Vincent Van Gogh was quoted “I dream my painting and then paint my dream.” If the misty, water-coloured memories are helping or supporting you, keep them. If they are not, it’s time to look at when they were painted, by whom and in what context. It may be time to adjust them, put a different slant on them, or let them go. And use that time, as you may be in the midst of priming the canvas prior to your new work, to celebrate your prolific and artistic ability to live. Your mere existence gives testament to your abilities, talents and strengths for survival (and, hopefully, thriving). Your past paintings needn’t restrict your style right now – they were part of the body of work that got you here. And the belle époque of your future is based on your brushstrokes made right now.
Wishing you a colourful March,