This post was initially titled “Don’t forget me.” but I recently re-planted some forget-me-nots from the back yard to the front garden. These little blue flowers have made me smile and they remind me of our garden at our old house even though those flowers I believe, were not forget-me-nots but they they were tiny white flowers that would grow along the brick wall. At least from what I could remember. Apologies to any garden enthusiasts stumbling on this post. This is far from a “how to grow your green thumb” nor is it a “how to not forget”.
I have a deep fear of forgetting and being forgotten. Believe it or not, the first time I said it out loud to others was during one of my very first presentations in grad school. We were asked to present on our own personal collections of anything we wanted. I chose to present on my magnet collection that lived between my apartment and my parents house.
To my absolute fucking shock during my presentation to the class, I shared that I was afraid to be forgotten, hence why my parents fridge had more pictures of me than my siblings. Everywhere else in the house in photo frame collages are images of my family and their lives before me. Maybe it’s because of the large age gap. I don’t know. Is it a “baby of the family” sort of thing? Probably.
I worry about forgetting because I am really good at suppressing a lot of things. The good and the bad. On my trip nearly five years ago to Viet Nam, I was obsessed with documenting everything. Recording on my phone, taking pictures with my slr and dslr, journaling, sketching, making just any type of record to hold onto a memory and feeling that I knew I would eventually forget.
Sometimes I get so confused when memories do pop up from years ago. Was that a memory of a dream? A memory of a movie or TV show? Is it deja vu? Is this someone else’s memory?
Some of my extended family members have a form of dementia. When I watched my older aunts forget my mom I think that’s what really shook and frightened me. Will I forget the sounds of laughter of those closest to me? Will I forget what makes me smile? Will I forget myself? If I document in the moment, I can remember it later on… right?
A voice in my head goes: start doing brain trivia NOW! avoid aluminum in deodorant! Eat super foods! DO WHATEVER YOU CAN DO TO NOT FORGET.
It’s strange because there are memories and feelings that I do so desperately want to forget and move on from. I know the more you run away from it, the more those things will find their way back in your life. Creeping through your dreams or crashing into you unexpectedly in public.
It’s quite conflicting and contradictory that I don’t want to be forgotten by my family but I want others to forget me. In terms of other people I’ve met through my different paths in life, I kind of wish they would forget about me. I wish I could shed the old Julia’s that made awful and embarrassing mistakes, said mean things, and was straight up stupid and ignorant.
Lately, the bad memories have popped up even more. Demanding their attention. I hate it. But I understand that to grow, I need to sit with them – also because that’s what my pattern on the pattern app keeps telling me to do. In this confrontation or healing journey if you will, it allows me to give the old Julia’s a break.
“Hey kid, you’re going through a lot of shit right now. It’s starting to make sense why you are the way you are right now. You’re just doing what you need to just get through it.”
A few holidays ago, I was searching frantically for my baby video from Christmas. I’m about 1 or 2 years old wearing a pink jumper with white little hearts. I see our red couches in the living room. I hear my “grandma” say, “here comes Julia, there she is!” As I waddle into the living room absolutely delighted by the presents and the attention of course.
I have about 2 VHS tapes that are just completely about moi recorded by my dad. While I was fascinated watching our other tapes that documented what felt like my family’s whole other life without me, sometimes it made me uncomfortable and annoyed. Where the heck am I? How come I don’t have a lot of records? Are the years that *I* joined the family just not important? Do I not exist?
Wow. I really do sound like the baby of the family.
One year, anytime I went home on a visit, something of mine was thrown away. An art project I didn’t get the chance to document, my sketchbooks from elementary school, past art assignments, gone. All gone.
I never really got over the shock of it. The betrayal. The complete disrespect. But now I realized something. I fell into preservation and archives because of this deep, frantic search of wanting to learn about my parents and what they were like and what life in Viet Nam was like. I knew that there were very little photographs of my parents that still existed. Part of this is why I’m so obsessed to create documents, things, something, anything that says: I EXIST!! WE EXIST!!
I think about these records of countering mainstream narratives and to see myself in my own way. Just because these stories and nuanced moments aren’t in traditional archives, doesn’t mean that these very real and lived experiences aren’t true.
To my knowledge, we don’t have troves of family records – at least not here in Canada of my parents and their lives during the war. Like many others, when my mom escaped, her personal possessions had to be destroyed by her family for her safety and theirs. Because of this, photographs that I so desperately long to see were lost in the mix.
So why the hell would my possessions stored in the garage be of any importance when my parents literally came with nothing? Listen, I know this isn’t mutually exclusive okay? I know my things can still be of importance to me and that’s true. But it was one hell of an a-ha moment to realize I fell into preservation thinking that this field of profession could help me preserve these memories that are just at any given time, fleeting.
What’s the point of preserving something that’s supposed to deteriorate and go away? What happens when I no longer have those documents of all these things I try to record? Not every physical thing is meant to be kept forever. What does it mean to rethink what it means to preserve, to archive or to document without the physical stuff? To archive the intangible?
I’ve never found that missing VHS tape. I’ll admit there’s a part of me that hopes it will magically reappear. All I have are the memories of the choppy scenes in my head and the memories of me watching it. Every time I think about it, I try to fill in the blanks. And all I can do now is hold onto how it makes me feel.
With the pandemic, I’ve been forgetting even more things than usual. Frankly, it’s scaring me. From forgetting what used to make me happy to forgetting what it even feels like to hold my partner’s hand.
My brain feels foggy and I think that’s why I feel the need to record some aspect of my life during these ~historical, unprecedented times~ as they say.
I have been recording bits and pieces of my life in my journals since grade school. I’ve been sharing these pieces on piczo (I think that’s what it’s called?), myspace, tumblr, facebook, instagram, and this blog. Now, I’m creating vlogs on youtube because I don’t want to forget.
Creating and sharing my videos and my photographs had at one point, been a real source of joy. In fact, it even felt liberating to claim space no matter how small it was in the grand scheme of the world wide web. I was beginning to feel confident in myself and weirdly feeling assured that this was a record that future Julia could always look back on and revisit. However, it’s becoming overwhelming and now, I’ve been rethinking what it means to document everything and share it…
I’m slowly warming up to sharing again but for the past few months, I wanted to hide from the world. I wanted to scrub any and all existence of myself off of the internet. I didn’t feel safe taking up space on the internet or sharing bits and pieces of my life. I felt angry too. I didn’t want people to consume me. Consume my thoughts. Consume my feelings or consume my body. I felt that I didn’t have control.
It also felt inappropriate to want to document anything that I was doing. I felt lost in why I wanted to record anything in the first place when all of it could go away in a blink of an eye.
That might be dramatic but it’s very much a possibility.
Yes, I will cry if all my files were gone just like I cried when I found out my art was thrown away and just like I cried when I thought I had forgotten the sound of a family member’s voice.
The reality is, that whatever I do to try to hold onto these precious memories will never be enough. I think it has to go away because not everything from physical documents to even intangible memories are meant to be kept forever. Not everything is meant to be remembered or maybe at least, not meant to be remembered in that very moment…and I think I’m becoming okay with that.
*deep breath in, deep breath out*
Alright you’ve/we’ve/I’ve made it this far, so here’s a treat below.
until next time,
I played this while editing this post. It also brings a lot of nostalgia and romanticizing if you will.
yes, yes there are countless articles and books about memory studies! spicy memory! post-memory! nostalgia without memory! but I wanted to avoid feeling like this post was something academic. i want to just write about my feelings and not have to dissect it and back it up with theory.