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March 12, 2016: Middle Memory

This morning, as I was driving to qi gong class, I heard a portion of an interview with writer Annie Dillard. She’s recently come out with a new book. What I now remember is what she said about the relationship inherent to writing and

memory. She said that we remember what we write about – and that photographer/vacationers remember what they took pictures of.

I wanted to join in on this conversation because the interrelationship of writing and memory is my primary area of literary interest. I wanted to say “yes Annie, you are probably right. But there is far more to writing and memory than you indicate.” I would, if I could, go on to say that in the literal act of writing, we slow ourselves down and perhaps both activate neurons and create new neural pathways.

Writers write in order to bring specific events/incidents/recollections back to mind, with the purpose of getting at certain truths. We don’t write everything down. Otherwise we’d spend half our time generating material and half our time writing about what we generated. All we’d have to show for our efforts would be a running stream of consciousness. Readers would then have to sort through the so-so bits in order to get at the good bits. And no one would have the patience or time required to unearth the truth.

As I age, I’m becoming more dependent upon my long term and less dependent upon my short term memory. In fact, my long term memory’s job description now includes giving the short term memory a much-needed assist. It is like a handicap ramp now exists between the two. For instance, if I can’t recall the name of someone I met the second time around, I consciously call upon the long term memory to dredge it up for me.

The same holds true with writing. My hope is that the short term memory-related details attach to the long term memory details, the way say, antigens attach to antibodies. For instance, I’m now working on my essay on breathing, the title essay being “Coming up for Air.” Last night I wrote a short paragraph, which I attached to my query letter for Trafalagar Press. I wrote about dissecting Sir Francis Bacon (my fetal pig) and taking a close look at his lungs and heart. I did not take notes in making my short term observations because my gloved hands were covered in formaldehyde and pig parts. However, I did draw upon my long-term memory in recalling that I became visibly excited in discovering the diaphragm. I indicate that this moment was most revelatory in that I finally understood how the respiratory system worked.

My writing this paragraph alerted me to the fact that the events involved in doing this dissection (and this includes my ongoing interactions with my lab partners) are going to be a central part of this essay in that they’ll indicate to readers the lengths that I, a newly minted Centered Riding instructor, is doing in her attempts to advance Sally Swift’s ideas about breathing. This paragraph also alludes to the fact that I’m advancing the same ideas in drawing upon my internal martial arts training. I’m going to talk about what I learned in attempting to do specific exercises, and as well, what the outcome has been. This way, riders will better understand the interrelationship inherent to body awareness and being centered.

As I have been writing this, the distinctions between long and short term memories and their respective roles have become blurred. Maybe, just maybe, we humans have something called middle memory. Middle memory is where long and short term memory intersects. Try this. Take your middle and index fingers, put them inside one another, and join them together. The analogy is this- like one’s fingers, long and short term memory are inextricably linked.

I’m going to draw upon middle memory in Coming up for Air. The short term memories are tangible – I leaned over Sir Francis in order to get a closer look at the pulmonary veins – the smell of Formaldehyde caused my eyes to water. I coughed, put my head to one side, and breathed deeply. And the long term memories are equally tangible. In coming up for air, I realized that this lab was not a time suck. Rather, it was integral to my ongoing Centered Riding training. There you have it – middle memory, a concept that is going to be a repeated theme in this book.

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