Fragments of Me

After a hot weekend at the end of last month the skies went grey and Adelaide woke up on the day before Australia Day to nearly twelve inches of rain, as well as the Hottest 100 of 2000 being re-played on Double J. It struck me as quite a coincidence, because I remembered that on the day before Australia Day in 2001, when that Hottest 100 was played the first time, that Adelaide had also been drenched by a considerable downpour after a heatwave. I remember it distinctly because I hosted a “shindig” that night and I recall my school friends coming down the path to my front door while my uphill nextdoor neighbour feverishly attempted to clear a summer worth of Adelaide Hills leaves from his gutters before the storm hit. What I also found coincidental was that I recall that same Australia Day I was listening to Filter’s Take My Picture while lying on the couch, taking a break from the Age of Empires’ II Scenario Editor where it was slowly starting to dawn on me that I did not have the talent or patience to become the world’s greatest Age of Empires scenario designer. And - in the come down from an intense social experience the night before (and what Shindig wasn’t an intense social experience?) - I think subconsciously I was realising that I might not be the world’s greatest anything by the time I was done on this planet. But I repressed that then as I do now.
The coincidence, of course, is that while listening to the same Hottest 100 two decades later I had come back to playing the same video game after the same duration. Life is a series of concentric circles, so I’ve heard a lot recently anyway, and this just seemed to prove it at least at a single loop.

Anyway, of course I searched the internet to find out exactly how many inches of rain had fallen that day, and if the preceding temperature had been slightly cooler and was singular-statistical proof of global warming. And what I found was that January 25, 2001 was a mild 22 degrees and sunny. In fact, the whole week was. There’d been no storm. My neighbour wouldn’t have even bothered with his gutters.

I tried to debug my brain to work out how this misconception had occurred. From what I can determine, there was a heatwave where I hosted a shindig at the same time as a storm broke it. It was definitely a summer, but who knows what year it was. It’s probable that my neighbour was clearing his gutters, but maybe that was at a time that there wasn’t a shindig. He could have been playing the recorder, badly. A habit he picked up after he retired. Or maybe that was his kids that used to play the recorder, and I just made up a joke about him playing it to Alex. Maybe it wasn’t to Alex, but to one of my friends. Maybe it wasn’t that Filter song playing on the stereo when I was lying on the couch watching Brett Lee tear through the West Indies top order. Maybe I wasn’t introspective, maybe I was happy?

It’s an established fact that every time you access a memory in your brain it gets a little spiced up, a little derived (Drivdahl & Hyman, 2013). The brain evolved to remember stories, like “girl who walked off into that part of jungle never came back” and “eating little blue berries made Gog turn blue”. These are just general concepts tied to basic instincts, not self-actualisations, not fragments of our identities, our souls. I mean, you can make videos of everything you ever did, or write about your day and your feelings in a diary, but unless you’re autistic or own a lot of cloud storage space you’re never going to capture everything. You’ll always need to rely on your memories to guess at who you are, and were.

And today, as I listened to people speak about a recently dead man and who he was to them, I realised that if my memories of me are so pliable and fallible and misleading then imagine what other people’s memories of me must be like. Imagine if you asked Vivek, or the old neighbour with the recorder, or Brett Lee about what Brad had been like in January, 2001. They’d probably have some memories they could dig up, fill in the gaps creatively from other memories they owned and maybe even deliver a eulogy. But If I’m of the opinion I’d struggle to accurately eulogise myself then I doubt they would even come close to doing justice to who I really was.

Maybe this is why I started my online journal in (November) 2001, and it’s something I still update occasionally today. At least while I’m alive it gives me something of a reference to who I am and how I feel and at least what the weather was that day. That said, I’ve also re-read my old journals from twenty years ago and I honestly don’t think my sixteen year old musings and MSN Messenger highlights are how I want to live on after death.

This could all be considered quite sad and gloomy, but I think the fact our true past selves die almost nightly, and that post-mortem we live on as misguided reflections of reality in other people’s perspectives, is actually a great thing. The man who was honoured today did not have many friends, and those who did know him wouldn’t have had many nice things to say about him if he was alive. But in death, with no new memories being made, those speeches were like transformation exercises. An almost conscious decision to pick the parts of his life and influence they could agree with, twist them into nice stories for an audience, and then store those memories forever as the archetype for all future memories of him. When you die it will corrupt your memory in every mind you’ve known, but what survives the process will likely be the nice things you did (or didn’t) do, the funny and kind words you said (or didn’t say). That’s some way of living, at least until they remember you again later and edit those memories again...

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