I am an extinguisher of memories. It’s an involuntary habit, to be sure; I don’t understand how people aren’t forgetful. Of the roughly 18 daily hours I spend awake, I probably remember 30 minutes, those precious few memories exponentially eroding over time until the haze of hindsight warps several seconds into elongated stretches of reality. I could say the amount of toxins that I’ve poisoned myself with are to blame, but that’s simplistic. They’ve likely exacerbated the problem to some extent, but I assume there’s a deeper pool in my psyche behind the curtains. My most sinister accusation is that, as a simple physical organism, my brain is aware of how paralyzing it would be for me to live in constant reminder that what I do on a day-to-day basis is really, truly meaningless, and those eternal seconds are the only residue worth feeling. Thanks for looking out, brain, keep up the good work. I’ll be sure to order you another shot.
Let’s forget all that for now. I was daydreaming recently, trying to rank the years of my life in order from best to worst. Needless to say, I fell on some hard times, frustrated by a nostalgic stupor. So much of my life is now in the purgatory separating the subconscious and hippocampus, it’s impossible for me to turn what little I remember into a list. If I followed through, though, I’m inclined to believe that those early years – the blurs of treehouses, lizards and long roads – would dominate the top positions on the list, if I was only able to recollect them in detail. Not the details themselves, though, just the feelings. Age curses us with the forbidden fruit of realizing the worst of both the largeness and smallness of the world, that the things we once thought as grand enchantments are recurring decimal points, and those long roads and fields that once babbled onward into an unrelenting horizon are actually 5 minute walks to the highway.
One year, however, juts through the noise. Though I was apparently blacked out for the first 4 and a half months, I have a crystalline recollection of most of 2010. The last hurrah of undergrad, the vertiginous blurs of sex, drugs and partying, and the final breath of youthful exuberance before time would coerce me into adulthood. I felt an indomitable rush of life permeate my every thought, step, and plan. More importantly, that feeling was true, a stark contrast to the instinctive repulsion I get when it bubbles up now.
The stereotypical collegiate debauchery led into stereotypical young man revelations; I traveled that summer. After graduating, I spent 7 weeks in Canada with friends, mostly getting fucked up and mulling the future about, still believing it was a mound of shapeless clay ready to manipulate. From there I ventured to Asia for another month on my own. Though I stayed with my brother and his wife in Korea, I spent my days there mostly solo, wandering streets and finding hikes to seclude myself in while they were at work. I flew thousands of miles so I could walk around. It was perfect.
But the most memorable stint was, oddly enough, the shortest. I left Korea for Japan on a one-way ticket, assuming that I would figure it out as I went along. I had no phone, no money, a couple notebooks and a bag full of clothes. It was all I needed to last me two weeks. The details (again) are inconsequential. In fact, I tend to shy away from ever talking about my time in Japan, because the effervescence of that duration was so singular, the power and meaning so solitary, that there’s really no point in sharing it. All it could become in a vocalized body is a fun, cool story, which insults the importance I’ve attributed to it.
The real irony of everything, in my mind, is that when I made it home, I was an unstoppable force of optimism for several months. I tasted adventure in its most fulfilling soma. I dove deeper into myself than I had ever been able to go, propelled by the velocity of being excited about life and all it could hold. The largeness of the world was magic again, a never-ending matrix of possibility. The smallness, too, was rife with implication: I was the hero in the Story Of Me, the delightfully charming, predictably unreliable narrator. I was a changed man. I was a kid again.
And then time happened. Loan payment notifications trickled in, gas prices rose, tasks piled up, head gaskets blew, alarm clocks sounded, and hours bled into days that folded into each other. The wilderness inside myself was measured and tamed, cast into unfulfilled daydreams, relegated to shoulds and ifs – at best given a leash of a week or two of vacation every year. It’s hard to be wide-eyed when you have to squint at the computer screen in front of you. There’s a deadline approaching. Better get typing.
I’ve come full circle, in a way; I moved to Korea last summer, in part as an attempt to rekindle that lost sense of exploration. And here I am, busy as ever.
It’s easy to forget that I exist outside the walls of my classroom and my apartment, since those two rooms fight greedily for my time. It’s to the point that I wonder if I’ll fade into the backdrop if I mosey too far outside of them. Precedent tells me that the boundaries of comfort I lock myself between are meant to be knocked down, that there are new me’s waiting to see the light of day outside somewhere. But goddamn these constructs are cogent. Catatonia is convincing, and fiercely jealous.
* * *
In a rare intersection of science and philosophy, neurology tells us that we are our brains. If souls exist, they lay matted somewhere in the cushions of our prefrontal cortex. The rest of the body is merely a protective shell for the brain to animate. It’s only when my life is stagnant in the present that my thoughts wander into the past. There are mysteries there, exhilarating unknowns that are safely bowdlerized out of my regular life. But it’s dangerous to linger too long in your memories, lest you take up residence there and foreclose the possibility of the future.
I am my mind, and my mind wanders frequently. Perhaps I should, too.