Wednesday, July 28, 2021

"I Have No Memory of That."

Last night I got together with four of my best friends. We gathered to celebrate one of our birthdays. We’re all in our fifties now — some of us more solidly than others. We’re tamer than we once were, choosing mocktails over bottomless bottles of wine. Post-pandemic it’s enough to simply get together. We don’t need a weekend trip or a restaurant for it to feel special.

Last night we talked about memory — about dementia in particular. Several of us are noticing it in our parents. We’re at a place right now where we’re noticing it a little bit in ourselves too. Not necessarily dementia, but the loss of memory.

I remember some things so clearly, yet other experiences are completely gone. The other night our houseguests reminded me that we’d had a whole pig at our wedding. “Really?,” I’d exclaimed, “I have no memory of that.” I think I didn’t remember because of all the things on that momentous day the food was the least important.

But I say that phrase all the time, “I have no memory of that.” My daughter worries that I have early Alzheimers. She wants me to get checked out. But there are no other signs other than the fact that I simply don’t remember certain things. 

I wonder if, over time, we simply adapt. The storage lockers of the mind get full and we have to purge some memories. I’ve started to do this in my home with memorabilia. I recently got rid of all of my old dolls. My grandfather used to bring me a doll from every county he visited. 

I had dolls from all over the world and used to love lining them up and looking at them. As I gave them one last lookover before putting them in the Goodwill pile, I had a flush of excitement, a feeling of happiness and contentment to see these dolls from my childhood. But I gave them away. There’s just no room for them anymore. 

In place of the storage room where I kept the dolls and other mostly unnecessary stuff, we created a new room, an office for me. It’s a beautiful clean space free of clutter, a fresh new space where I can create new memories. 

Last night at dinner with my friends I was impressed with how one of my friends recalled all the details from certain movies and television shows from our youth. “I have no memory of that,” I said over and over. I don’t remember details anymore — the restaurants I ate at, the parties I attended, even some friendships. But I do remember the feelings I’ve had at different stages of my life.

Last year one of my college roommates reminded me that we’d lived with another woman during our senior year. “I have no memory of that,” I said to her. I was convinced that she was wrong. But then, a few months later I saw a pile of albums at a garage sale and I remembered the two apartments across the hall that my friends and I shared in college. The front doors were just six feet apart and we often left them open so we could enjoy the stereo in both spaces.

I remember how one of my friends, a musician, played records- Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Sly and the Family Stone. I remember the feeling of living there — the sunny St. Louis mornings, the lazy weekend days. The feeling of independence. 

Sometimes when a friend or family member is sharing a memory in detail I wish I could go there with them, conjure the details and replay the experience like watching a movie for the second time. But for whatever reason much of this stuff is no longer available to me. 

I wonder if this is why I write — to capture the experiences, especially the feelings in my life. A few days ago my friend Kate and I were swimming in the lake. Our goal was to swim pier to pier, about half a mile. “Can you believe we used to do this a couple of times a week?” she said to me as we breaststroked our way north. “We did?” I said, “I have no memory of that.” 

But the next day we swam again. She reminded me how we trained in the lake for a triathlon with three other friends for two summers in a row. I couldn’t remember the details of the lake swimming but a smattering of other memories were sparked and I remembered the feelings from that time — how we laughed and cheered each other on, how grateful we were to finish the race. 

Right now the memory of gathering with my friends last night it fresh and clear — the delicious garbanzo bean chard dish our host made, the wonderful mocktails with funny names another made, the adorable gifts we shared with the birthday girl. I remember the things we talked about and the wallpaper patterns we looked at on the front porch. I probably won’t remember those details next year at this time, but I’ll remember the feeling I had — the joy of coming together to celebrate another passing year, the sense of ease we shared after so many years of friendship.

Sometimes I get frustrated that I can’t remember specific memories. It makes me feel like I’m aging too quickly; like I am losing something that I should retain. But I feel better now that I have a theory for what I think is happening. Like getting rid of my old dolls, I’m clearing out details that I don’t need anymore, making space for the present and the future. 

I am older now, but still relatively young, and I’ll need this space. I am making new memories every day and there’s simply no room in the limited space of my brain for all of the old and all of the new. “I have no memory of that,” is really no different from, “I ran out of space to store all that old stuff." I've had to purge the details, but I've retained the essence of the experiences, the feeling of the memories.

And I think this is all I really need — the memory of the feeling. Out with the old and in with the new. I have no memory of a lot of things, but I remember the important stuff and that’s good enough for me.

Monday, July 19, 2021

My Daughter Has Secrets and That's a Good Thing

When my daughter was little she didn’t keep secrets. She told me everything. Once when she was four, she told me that she and her friend snuck candy. She told me even though she knew she’d get in trouble for it. As she got older she began to sensor what she told me. She didn’t want to get in trouble and she didn’t want to hear my perspective on what she or a friend did, even if it wasn’t bad. 

Over the years my daughter has shared past-kept secrets with me. When she was fourteen she shared with me the true extent of the bullying she experienced a few years earlier. Sometimes she’ll share a memory from when she was really little — like how she thought her imaginary friends were actually real, just microscopic and only she could see them. She told me she kept this secret because she didn’t want anyone else to know they were actually real and try to see them.

My daughter is sixteen now and she has lots of secrets — big ones and little ones. She has a vibrant, active social life. She has a car and a driver’s license. She is independent and on her own most of the time. When she comes home I want her to tell me everything. But she rarely does. If the mood is right she might share a few details about a party or some other activity she did, but I know the big stuff, the important stuff she mostly keeps inside.

I’ve noticed that eventually, my daughter will share things about her life with me. She shares her secrets once enough time has passed that I will no longer have a strong reaction — negative or positive. I get it. She wants to preserve her secrets, to keep them precious, like sterling silver pieces wrapped in thin felt, in the dark, away from the ozone and hydrogen that will tarnish them. She is still processing the experience herself, figuring out what it means to her, how it feels in her own body. 

It’s smart. She knows that if she tells me I will have a feeling about it. It might just be the subtle reaction on my face. Or I might have a lecture to give or a personal experience of my own to share. Her secrets stay inside until she is ready to make them public, to hear the outside critique, the oohs and ahhs, the possible judgment and disappointment.

Recently my daughter shared a secret with me that surprised and shocked me. When she told me, I saw her from an angle I had not yet seen. In hearing her secret I felt like I knew her a little bit more but simultaneously realized that there is so much more that I do not know. There must be so many more secrets. 

In the moment after my daughter shared her secret, I felt closer to her. I felt happy and grateful that she had shared it with me. But I also felt the sense that I knew her a little bit less. With every secret my daughter holds onto, mulls over, churns around inside, with her friends, in her own mind, she is coming to know herself a little bit more. 

As my daughter’s sense of knowing herself grows, so too does my sense of unknowing her. I think this is the point. In the old days when my daughter told me everything, I was in charge of her life. I made all the decisions. I planned all the activities. I was always there to moderate playdates and meltdowns. 

But that’s not my role anymore. My daughter has to figure out most of that stuff on her own. She has to build her own interiority of wisdom that she can draw from to navigate her life. This begins with her secrets, the life experiences she holds, processes, deciphers on her own before she lets them out for review from me or anyone else.

When my daughter shares a secret it is like she is making a little crack in the armor — I can see inside just a tiny bit, a glimmer of light shining from inside out. I want to get a knife and wedge my way in, to make the crack bigger so I can see more, know more. 

This longing is familiar. It comes with being a parent of a teenager. Standing outside trying to look in, there is so much more I want to know. But I know that this is part of the process — my unknowing of my daughter becomes her knowing of herself. I know she will share her secrets when she is ready, but for now, they are all hers.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Evolution vs. Devolution

Yesterday my partner and I had a fight. We’d just come off of eleven days of family houseguests and we were both live wires — frayed and ready to spark. We had a fight, a small explosion, recovered, and went on to have a lovely night taking our teenage daughter and her cousin out to dinner. 

As we drove to the restaurant I reflected on how much my relationship with my partner has evolved. We’ve grown into a more functional, resilient team. We are more complex. We are better than we once were. I’ve been in relationships where this hasn’t been the case, where we’ve devolved. The combination of energies and personalities created a reverse system of movement into something worse, something destructive and unsustainable. And the relationship died; it had to end. 

At dinner, the four of us sat outside and enjoyed a long, lazy dinner together. We talked about college, relationships, dreams, fears, possibilities, and obstacles. We laughed, tasted each other’s meals, and asked each other questions. I was keenly aware of how special this experience was. It’s not easy to tie two wildly social sixteen-year-olds down in the heat of the summer, much less engage in two hours of engaged, focused conversation. 

Later in the evening when the girls had gone off to do their own thing, my partner and I reflected on how much these two sixteen-year-olds have evolved in the last few years. They live on opposite sides of the country so only see each other once or twice a year but they hold each other up, they support each other and each makes the other better.

The root of evolution is “volv” which means “roll” or “turn around.” Being involved in a relationship — whether it is romantic, professional, friendship, or other — means you are rolling somewhere. You are moving in some direction.

In relationships that are evolving, you are rolling out or forth — expanding, growing, moving into a better state of being. In relationships that are devolving, you are unrolling or coming undone, falling apart, ready to break up. 

I’ve been in devolving relationships — both friendship and romantic — and they’ve had to end. In those relationships, I was involved — rolling into — a connection with someone with whom I was not able to grow or expand; I was unable to roll out or towards something more expansive and enriching. 

As I’ve aged more of my relationships feel like they are evolving. I have more life experience, a better sense of discernment. I am more in touch with the micro emotions that signify a need for change, a shift in the direction I am rolling. 

Relationships are the hardest thing in the world. We all know, we can feel, when our relationships are rolling in the wrong direction. We feel less buoyant, less resilient. We feel decreased energy, a weaker constitution. And we can feel when our relationships are rolling in the right direction. The air feels lighter. The sun shines brighter. There are possibilities in the present moment and a sense of excitement for what will come next. 

The beauty of relationships is that they are always in motion, always changing, going in one direction or another. What’s important is that we check in from time to time and make sure we’re rolling in the right direction. 

Work Life Balance

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