Ever since I read Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, I’ve been fascinated by what he calls “involuntary memory,” the concept of remembering without consciously trying to remember. I find that my involuntary memory is most often triggered when I’m going through the day and suddenly recall something that reminds me of a dream I had the night before. It’s a little odd… all of a sudden, you might kneel down to tie your shoe and see a cicada on the sidewalk, and remember out of the blue that you dreamed about cicadas the night before.
Perhaps your involuntary memory is more often triggered by a certain scent. You might be walking down the hallway in the building where you work and pass someone who’s wearing a perfume that your mother or your ex-girlfriend used to wear all the time. I think, a lot of the time, that involuntary memories are much stronger and clearer than memories you consciously try to recall.
With regular memory, sometimes only a few particular details stick out in your mind — usually sensory or emotional details — and other times, you might be able to remember with such accuracy it was as though the event happened only yesterday.
A few nights ago, I was lying in bed trying to remember events of my sixth grade year, which I always have a difficult time remembering for some reason. Mostly, I remembered the names of people (not really their faces), and then I remembered certain events associated with those people. I got out of bed and wrote down several of those memories so that perhaps, when I looked at them later, they would spawn more memories. My memory doesn’t pick up on spatial details — I generally remember where my old middle school was, but not the buildings around it or how far up the road it was.
But what’s a bit scary about memory is how, with each year, the old memories begin to fade. I can recall a detail about sixth grade now, but in a few months, it won’t be as clear. That’s why I try to write down as many memories as I possibly can. I’ve heard it said that writing improves memory, and for the most part, that seems to be true.