Monday, October 29, 2012

embodied memory

I must admit--it's a bit of a challenge to write this morning with the rain hammering against the windows and the wind howling outside as hurricane Sandy moves on shore. And we live inland so we aren't getting the worst of it. Still, I'm ready:

Emergency preparedness...
Actually, there's a good chance that a one hundred year-old oak will come crashing down on the house today or tomorrow, given its age and the direction of the wind. Famke is pressed up against me so she apparently knows that something is up with this storm, too. Which reminds me...
...I spent a couple of days with my brother in Buffalo last week for a memorial observation of the passing of one of our last remaining relatives. There, I was reminded of the iconic blizzards I enjoyed back when I was growing up.
Trust me--I know how to prepare for a storm.
It has been years since either of us has been back home so, while we were there, we revisited a few of our old haunts and indulged in food you can only get in Buffalo:
Ted's hot dogs from the same stand we frequented 50 years ago
Roast beef on kimmelweck
Duff's Wings-voted #1 in Buffalo for 8 years running
My brother and I also visited Buffalo Women's and Children's Hospital while we were there.

We were both hospitalized there with rheumatic fever as children and we are collaborating on a joint memoir about our shared experience and the subsequent effect it had on the course of our lives. I have to admit that my world wobbled a bit when we first walked in and I inhaled the familiar scent of antiseptic and hospital food, when I saw the chidren in their beds, and their parents keeping vigil at their sides. Of course, the hospital doesn't look anything like it did in 1952. Still, it brought back memories. As did the taste of hot wings. As did the cold, damp wind blowing in off Lake Erie.
Which brings me to the subject of embodied memory--a memory that is triggered by a physical sensation, a scene or a moment in time that may not have crossed our minds for many, many years. For me, last week, it was the smell of the hospital--a physical sensation that transported me back to the ward where I was hospitalized at the age of three, into the crib in the back corner of the room, back to the tantrum I threw at 8:00 every night when visiting hours came to an end.
You may experience something similar. You might hear a song that sends you back to your college days. You might walk out into the cold and remember standing at the corner waiting for the school bus in a snowstorm as a child.
You might inhale an aroma that triggers the memory of a long forgotten Christmas morning with your family.
Embodied memory is an important concept in our understanding of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and in the recovery of preverbal memory. It helps connect our reaction to certain persons and situations, and can help explain the anxiety we feel at times when there is nothing to feel anxious about.
If you write, this is a great way to introduce backstory--as a memory related to a sensation in one of your characters. You can incorporate one or more of the five senses as a trigger, remembering how important it is to access taste, smell, hearing, and touch in description.
Home-bound today because of the in-coming hurricane, I am transported back, by the roar of the wind and the chill draft in the house, to a day as a child when school was closed and we watched a different storm roll through.
 It's starting to pick up out there, so before I lose power, I just want to wish everyone in the path of this storm a safe harbor.
"Teach yourself to work
in uncertainty."
--Bernard Malamud--
Right now, it's hard to know what next week will bring forth.


1 comment:

  1. It always amazes me how a scent or a sound can bring back an old memory so sharply. Stay safe. Still have power for at least a little.