Memory Shadows

April 6, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Posted in Experiences, History, Psychology, Writing and Life | 4 Comments
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What causes us to remember some things and not others?

From reading I have done, I discover that there are three major processes relating to memory: encoding, storage and retrieval. I also learned that there are probably three stages of memory: sensory memory; short-term memory; and long-term memory.

I’ve written about ‘losing my history’ through a lack of artefacts from my childhood. But there is more to the loss than that. The simple fact is that I have a poor memory of that time.

Apparently, we do not retain much of the information around us because we do not “rehearse” it, which we need to do if we want it to reach our long-term memory.

I can remember tunes and songs I grew up with and sing them still – I suppose I used to sing them often, but I cannot remember specific events in my life unless there was something that really stood out about them. But even then, I wonder why I cannot remember my mother and her brother being reunited on television not long after TV first came to Australia in 1956? I was about nine, my younger sister seven, and she remembers it clearly.

Psychology gives us four main reasons for this forgetting:

  • The event didn’t make it to long-term memory;
  • Interference of one memory with another;
  • Inability to retrieve the memory;
  • Motivated forgetting, either suppression (intentional) or repression (unconscious).

   I know that I made my First Communion when I was seven and was Confirmed when I was ten (I am in a photo taken at home that day), but I cannot remember the actual days themselves. My sisters and my younger brother remember theirs, so why don’t I?

My husband and I went to the same high school for four years. We lived in the same street and, for the last two years, we caught the same bus to and from school. We would walk and talk together as far as the T-intersection at our street; he’d turn left to his home and I’d turn right to mine. He remembers it all clearly. I don’t remember it at all.

If one or more of the above four are the reasons for my forgetting these events in my life, then I wonder which it could be. They were all things that were important to me at the time, so surely, I wouldn’t want to forget them. There wouldn’t be a clash of memories either, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried to forget them.

So that leaves the inability to retrieve the memories because they have not been ‘rehearsed’. But, if that is so, why can I remember something like playing in the sandpit with my baby brother, when I haven’t thought about it for over fifty years?

Perhaps there is more to memory and its retrieval than we realise, and there are still many questions that need to be answered. But I really would like to remember a lot more of my childhood. It would cut down on a lot of frustration in my writing life!

© Linda Visman,

Mementos of Childhood

March 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, Making History, Psychology | 5 Comments
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I possess very little from my childhood; not the only doll I ever had, that the dog chewed up, nor bits of the wooden scooter Dad made one Christmas. I don’t even have the things that I was really keen to hang on to, that were important to me then; things like my Missal (Mass book), my First Communion and Confirmation medals and certificates, and especially the books I loved.

In the 1950s, we were a struggling English migrant family of seven (five kids), living in a tiny three-roomed house in a tiny village in rural Australia. Dad added a room to the house when our uncle and aunt and two cousins arrived from England to stay with us until they could get their own place, and another when our grandparents followed them.

My little brother, the fifth child, was born not long before they arrived. There was little room for thirteen of us, let alone old toys and papers, and that sort of thing didn’t ever seem that important to my parents anyway. It didn’t worry me at the time either; I was only a kid. But times have changed since then.

My home in 1965

I would love to have the books I treasured as a child, examples of my writing or school work, anything at all in my handwriting. The only original things I do have are a few report cards, my references from secondary school, and the three certificates I received during my education – one on leaving the convent primary school where I was female dux, one at the end of my third high school year, and my high school matriculation. The only example of my writing that I have consists of one article, printed in the second annual magazine of our high school, in 1963.

In 1969, I went back home for a visit after I had married and was teaching far away. I do not remember seeing anything of mine in the house; not my book collection, including Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, nor the WWII model aeroplanes (Dad had been an RAF fighter pilot in the war) and model vintage cars that I’d had in my bedroom. Strange as it may seem, I never asked where my things had gone.

My school in 1959 (I was in 5th grade then)

Another strange thing: when St Paul’s, my old primary school, celebrated the centenary of the St Joseph sisters in 1983, they produced a booklet about the teachers and the school. There were only three teachers, all nuns, when I attended, though it is a large school now. Daybreak, the Centenary booklet, contains quite a few old class photos. Both my sisters and both my brothers are in there, but I am not – and we could never afford to buy school photos.

Similarly, at the state high school my husband and I had attended for five years, many student records were destroyed in a major flood about twenty years ago. The only records lost were those from the exact years we were there, 1961 to 1965. It is as if we had never been there – apart from my name in the school magazines I was able to buy.

In many ways, I feel like I have lost a major part of my childhood. Most of my ‘history’ has gone. It doesn’t help that I also have only a fragmented memory of those times.

Perhaps as a result of all this, I tried not to throw anything out that belonged to my five children. I don’t know what they still keep from these items – all 5 being boys, and movers about the country to find good careers, I suppose they haven’t bothered – and somehow, I only have a few of their things myself.

Thirty-five years ago, I began researching and putting together the family history. I have written a book, in two editions, about our family antecedents, including historical and social conditions of the times. It focuses in greater detail on the individuals since about 1850. Years of research made me well aware of the importance of records in establishing the life of any individual in any time.

But to know a person, we need to have more of them beyond bare genealogical details. And that has led to my being designated as ‘family historian’. In order to save what I can of us as individuals, I have become a hoarder of my own memorabilia and anything associated with my family. I have only a few of my parents’ small possessions – which are virtually all that remain of their lives, apart from memories that fade over time. These too will be lost as my generation and our children die out.

My published novel, Ben’s Challenge, and its sequel, Ben’s Choice, my current work-in-progress, are based on childhood memories and experiences in the area in which I grew up. I wanted to pass on the knowledge of those times to the children of today, especially to my own grandchildren. Instead, I find that the first book has ignited memories in older folk who lived during those times, and they have enjoyed being taken back to their childhood.

I think the books may also be a search for my own past. Perhaps I have never gotten over the loss of what was really my own childhood identity.

What items do you treasure from your childhood?

© Linda Visman,

Where’s That Word?

September 8, 2010 at 9:21 am | Posted in Writing | Leave a comment
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Too often, although I know so many words, I can’t bring them to mind when I want them. I feel like I’m reaching into a thick, rich alphabet soup, trying to find the one or two words I need out of the millions that are swirling around. As you do with a real soup, you aim for a particular bit, a juicy bit of meat, or a rich slice of vegetable, but it keeps eluding your spoon. It wants to stay there with all its fellows, warm and comfortable.

Little does that word know that if it would only allow itself to be caught, it would grow and multiply – not be consumed. That’s the difference between chicken vegetable soup and a soup of words. Oh, I do wish those words wouldn’t constantly hide from me! I want to have them as friends. Show them off in my stories and poems, or in my cryptic crosswords. You’d think they’d like that!

Other words sometimes jump out of the soup as I stir it. A bit like a fish jumping for an insect, or maybe even for joy. But they aren’t the ones I need right then. They just don’t fit into the line, or the sentence. They don’t have the right meaning or the right cadence. Not like the one I’m really looking for and can’t find. It doesn’t matter whether I scratch my head, chew my pen; or rack my brain for the most suitable word – or sometimes, even for the simplest of words – it doesn’t come.

Right now, I want words for waves – water waves, that is. The kind of words that ripple or roar, tinkle or crash, drip or cascade. Words like ripple, wavelet, comber and tsunami. But that’s as far as I can go. There must be more, but I just can’t think of them. They elude me. I know they’re there in my head. I’ve used them before. You’d think I could find them again, but, oh, no, they’ve gone on holiday somewhere.

I suppose I’ll just have to do what I always do – bring out the thesaurus. And, if I can’t find the words I need, then that award for the best poem or that delightful short story, full of wonderful imagery, brought to life by the apt use of just the right words, will go to someone else’s piece – again!

Where’s That Word?

February 8, 2010 at 6:06 am | Posted in Writing and Life | 2 Comments
Tags: , ,

Too often, although I know so many words, I can’t bring them to mind when I want them. I feel like I’m reaching into a thick, rich alphabet soup, trying to find the one or two words I need out of the millions that are swirling around. As you do with a real soup, you aim for a particular bit, a juicy piece of meat, or a rich slice of vegetable, but it keeps eluding your spoon. It wants to stay there with all its fellows, warm and comfortable. Little does that word know that if it would only allow itself to be caught, it would grow and multiply – not be consumed. That’s the difference between chicken vegetable soup and a soup of words.

Oh, I do wish those words wouldn’t constantly hide from me! I want to have them as friends. Show them off in my stories and poems, or in my cryptic crosswords. You’d think they’d like that!

Other words sometimes jump out of the soup as I stir it. A bit like a fish jumping for an insect, or maybe even for joy. But they aren’t the ones I need right then. They just don’t fit into the line, or the sentence. They don’t have the right meaning or the right cadence. Not like the one I’m really looking for and can’t find. It doesn’t matter whether I scratch my head, chew my pen; or rack my brain for the most suitable word – or sometimes, even for the simplest of words. It doesn’t come.

Right now, I want words for waves – water waves, that is. The kind of words that ripple or roar, tinkle or crash, drip or cascade. Words like ripple, wavelet, comber and tsunami. But that’s as far as I can go. There must be more, but I just can’t think of them. They elude me. I know they’re there in my head. I’ve used them before. You’d think I could find them again, but, oh, no, they’ve gone on holiday somewhere.

I suppose I’ll just have to do what I always do – bring out the thesaurus. And, if I can’t find the words I need, then that award-winning poem, or that delightful short story, full of wonderful imagery, brought to life by the apt use of just the right words, will go to someone else’s piece – again!

© Linda Visman

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