I was in the middle of my French literature class when this post came to mind. Something we were talking about sparked up some ideas not only of current events, but of things that have been happening in the past. In fact, the question of time was the spicy topic of discussion.
Currently, we are reading a section of a novel by the French writer Marcel Proust (who takes up 3 pages to talk about the most ordinary things, in the most specific detail. I feel some sort of relatability…), in his series of books titled “A la recherche du temps perdu” (“In the search of lost time”). In french, “lost time” may refer to time that has gone by as well as time wasted. Proust dedicates much of his writing to talk about what goes into memory, what incites it, how voluntary and involuntary memory work in different ways, and how we can sometimes change or even fabricate these delicate recollections.
The narrator of the book is a fragile, ill boy who not only looks forward to, but obsesses about the good-night kiss he receives from his mom every night. This moment is so special, so wound up in expectation, and so depended on for his happiness, that needless to say his whole day is dedicated to thinking about his dearly beloved maternal kiss. There is so much anticipation before the moment and consequently so much anxiety about what happens after the moment, which is when his mother leaves after she’s “done her job” that, in a bizarre manner, the closer the boy is to the moment, the more he dreads it, because the closer he knows he is to his mom leaving him. It is as if the anticipation of the moment is better than the moment itself. So never does the narrator really enjoy, cherish, or indulge in the moment he so closely holds himself to. He is never really in the present, but always looking back at precious moments that were, and looking forward to others who have yet to be. Why is this so typical of human nature? We are never satisfied with our current moments, and always glorifying the past while idealizing the future.
These notions were particularly interesting because at the same time that we were covering this topic in my French class, we started learning about memory in my psych class (Behavioral Neuroscience). Memory is assimilated by the brain as a whole, as opposed to focused in one single area. Maybe that is why memories are so powerful; they create a network of connections between the different parts of the brain and are able to incite all senses. Sometimes you just need that simple artifact, or a word somebody just happened to let out, or even a slight touch on your arm to bring back and relive a powerful distant memory. And isn’t it phenomenal that we can recall things as old as when we were 5?? I know I’ll never forget the day I first got on stage. What an exhilarating feeling. And it still hasn’t changed–I always feel those sparks just waiting to ignite before a dance performance.
Don’t you just love it when you can actually make an application from things you’ve learned in the classroom to real life? It’s a double win, why why, yes yes! Before memory, we covered the topic of sleep in my Psych class (I was so excited–I picked up my notebook and thought to myself “Yay! Information I can finally use in my personal life!”). We learned about the different stages of sleep and how the EEG (Electroencephalogram, which measures electrical brain activity) waves differ according to each stage. The pattern is usually that the more relaxed you are, the lower the frequency of the wave. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, however, which is the deepest stage of sleep, and the one associated with dreaming, the waves break the norm and show a pattern similar to that of being awake and alert. Isn’t that so interesting!? How can we be at the state of most rest, but at the same time with such intense mental activity? Which not only wakens up our unconscious, but which sometimes gives us images, feelings, and sensations we can even remember after waking up? How many peculiar recollections do dreams give us, and how many preexisting memories are peculiarly unfolded in our dreams? The bizarrity (I shall make up this word now. Yes, I have awarded myself word-creator power. Take that Webster!) of this occurrence never ceases to amaze me. Did you also know that things we learn in daily life are consolidated as memories during REM sleep? I don’t think I have ever found such a beautiful complex connection between memory and sleep, French and Psychology, dreams and life. And all of those mixed up together like a Cosi signature salad.
And all of this whirling up in my head just in that singular moment in French class, when my perky neurons began to get excited and chatty with each other. Isn’t it amazing what the human mind is capable of? It is efficient, holistic, adaptable…sometimes because of unfortunate events an area of the brain may get damaged, but because of its miraculous engineering, other parts take over to carry out the functions previously performed by the lost parts. Me = fan of Neuroplasticity (this concept of adaptability).
We sometimes try so hard and overwork our minds when really they already have all the mechanisms to help us out with whatever we need. So sometimes we should just let it do its thang. Let it do its brain thang. It’s like those moments when you really need to remember something, and you feel it at the tip of your tongue but for some reason it doesn’t come out. We try and try and try and try (“I try to say goodbye and I choke…” Ahh Macy Gray. She tries alright!) to recall it but the little bugger just doesn’t budge. Then, we let it go….and sometimes, even just a second later, somebody says “pineapple” and you remember that the color of the car you were thinking of was in fact, a Bahamas yellow. (Or you know, something of the sort). Or, the recollection will come back hours later in the shower or right as you are going to bed.
Sometimes, it’s not about trying so hard, but about letting go. And sooner or later, it will all eventually come back to us.
Happy December everyone!
Snow flake love,