Memories sit inside like coals that never lose heat. They live in every cell of our being. We carry them along and into our future. We try to separate our thoughts from their recall, ignoring the pull towards the experience; the person; the smell. We put them in frames, and stand outside of them as if they’re art. To see them as they truly were is to freeze time and prevent ourselves from moving on; to admit something about ourselves; to never survive. This is the trauma; the shame; the heartbreak; the loss; the tragedy. How we frame them is how we adapt and how we continue to carry on.
The greatest thing about memories, though, is they can serve as a muse. Muse is the word we associate with the source of creativity and inspiration. For Ancient Greeks, the mother of all muses was Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory. There has always been a connection between the two.
This would make sense seeing as though our identity is a collection of lived experiences, the stories we’ve told ourselves about ourselves, and how we are processing the external world. When we are inspired, what is created is actually the result of something we saw or heard with something we already know or have experienced, that past; that memory. Creation is the collaboration between the two.
What we choose to remember is also telling. Some are compartmentalized, as if one could schedule grief; some are selective, as if saving us from how things really went down; some are invented out of whole cloth, as if creating a new identity. They evolve or disintegrate over time. We use them to absolve people and shed light on things, or as reminders to poke a hornet’s nest and keep resentment alive. We use them as crutches when we don’t want to move on. And we use them as salve when the person invoked is healing to reflect upon.
Our general well-being is predicated on selecting for the more joyful and happier memories, but much of our personal growth and contribution to the world is only achieved by harnessing some of the most painful. We wouldn’t have 80% of music without the exaltation over new love or the emotional expense of heartache. We wouldn’t have most art or innovation if creativity didn’t stem from buried memories or deep inner work. Whether cliché or not, the tortured artist has been on display through millennia. The depressed, drug-addled, isolative, and neurotic, e.g. Caravaggio; Van Gogh; Jean-Michel Basquiat; Kanye.
Of course, our day-to-day work, most worldly contributions, and the general daily momentum of our lives comes from personal motivation, excitement, lightbulb moments, or the serendipity of thoughts and people collaborating. It does not come at the expense of hurt or sadness. Nor does phenomenal work require some level of grievance, loss, or sorrow as the catalyst. Yet this category of memories can be used as inspiration. They always will.