These Random Access Memories Can’t Wait

I recently finished a really good book about memory improvement, but I’ve been too lazy to actually perform any of the brain exercises recommended by the author. So while I now know more about the brain than I did before, my memory hasn’t increased a bit (to say nothing of a byte).

One thing I do recall (ha, ha) from the book is that the brain is all about association. Each piece of information in our heads is useful only in as much as it refers to another piece of information. The key to improving memory and brainpower, apparently, is increasing the number of these connections within your neural network. The meta-story here, of course, is that hypertext and the web, including blogs like this one, also derive their power and usefulness from the linking of information. For me, much of the fun of doing this blog — and hopefully for you reading it — is in making connections between the photos and the text. I rarely plan any of my shots; I just shoot whatever seems interesting at the moment. Sometimes the accompanying text (even if only a caption) comes to me right away, sometimes weeks later. (I also like hearing what connections others make to the photos and words [subtitle/hint, hint: please leave comments].)

So what’s all this got to do with a snapshot of a shadow of a tree? This photo sat on my hard drive for about a week after I shot it. For whatever reason, I was having a difficult time even thinking of a title for it, even though I liked the picture. Suddenly this morning, I looked at the picture again and it reminded me of John, a kid I went to elementary school with. John had freckles and was a stutterer. He was a bit excitable but generally well-liked. He wasn’t the smartest kid in our grade, but he did have good morals — he yelled at me once after I meanly ridiculed a classmate of ours, which he was 100% correct in doing.

But the memory I most associate with John is one that he had nothing to do with. Sometime in the third or fourth grade we had a poetry display in the hallways. Our teacher had made simple posters with poems that I’d assumed were from students, because under each poem was the name of a classmate.

This one was John’s:

I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.

I remember being really impressed that John knew how to write poetry — and good poetry at that. It wasn’t until about twenty years later that I discovered that not only was John not the author, but that there was also more to the poem than our teacher had shared. I hadn’t thought about this story in years, but all of a sudden so many memories about this old classmate, who by the way was someone I wasn’t even particularly close to, came flooding in. It made me think about what other memories I had in my head and how, in my own lazy roundabout way, I might actually be doing my own form of brain exercise by blogging.

(South St & Vietnam Veterans Plaza, Manhattan)