Vomiting Memories

Golden Trumpet (Allamanda cathartica) at my grandma's graveyard, 16 November 2019.

For someone who grew up having not so many close friends, books have transformed into my companions since I was a kid. When I was at fourth grade, I first read Si Jamin dan Si Johan by Merari Siregar at day and night. Between pages I often stopped reading and went to bathroom to cry. It was not that my parents forbade me to cry out loud but I was actually having hard time explaining the reason why I cried over a very sad story. I honestly didn’t know why but the story of two innocent kids intertwined in the most miserable destiny of a dysfunctional family haunted me to the core of my soul and it was easily pouring my tears down.

That moment engraved a deep sense of self-indulgence within me to notice any emotion spiking in myself and people around me. And the more I read, the more I feel resonating with people. It seems like when I read a book, I am diving deeply into someone’s thought or wandering to the corner of their mind. Some other days reading a book feels like listening to a friend sharing their personal story with me. Perhaps it is the most quintessential element of a book, i.e., a multitude of thoughts, feelings, emotions, truths, knowledge, perceptions, facts, stories, fantasies, and memories of someone and of other worlds. When I find a book reverberating with some fragments in my life, my body and mind couldn’t resist responding to it, either liking it or loathing it. Like most things in life that retaliate a moment with a memory, a book has adeptness to strengthen or even amplify the sadness or contentment which lies dormant within self.

For example, when I read Animal Dreams, a novel by Barbara Kingsolver, I was taken to a mesmerizing characterization of a collection of damaged characters. One of which is through Codi who says, “Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to the truth but not its twin.” I was compelled to examine my own perception towards the reality in front of me. And we know better that a memory sometimes can be friendly, sometimes can be vile. Let's take another look at The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers that messed me up emotionally pretty bad, "The heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of anothers fire..., driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there's no sign of love in sight."

Talking about memory, I could recall vividly nearly all moments that signify the ups and downs of my life to this day; ones that scarred me deeply and left me with some emotional baggages, and ones that made me sleep with smile. I have been greatly helped by my journal entries in revisiting a moment in the past and to notice the feeling, including this blog that collects the digital footprint of my thoughts and feelings. It's been ten years already, anyway, with this blog. Well, sometimes revisiting a particular event can be achingly triggering, but I keep telling myself it’s just normal: the feeling was real, but it was all behind. For example, every Lebaran I always turned to my 2009 journal. I revisited a moment when my gran passed away and I cultivated my feeling at time to be familiar with it. At time I was excruciatingly heartbroken and severely at loss but as I kept on reading the pages after, that pain had faded into a nostalgic memory as I continued living on.

It's beyond my comprehension how our brain can make an association to the event that has happened long time ago. A memory can be triggered by many things: a belonging, an occurrence, a person, the weather, a song, a book, a movie, and almost anything. When the memory is painful, most often we try to cover it up or ignore it, or rewrite it. I thought ignoring them is the best way to cut the connection with the triggering memories. I was mistaken. Ignorance isn’t the all solution at all because it numbs my feeling out. A memory is neither weak nor stupid to be stalled by ignorance. A memory has its own super power to continuously knock on your door even when you're ignoring it or pretending not to hear it. Funnily the more you pretend and ignore, the louder it knocks. Until you can’t stand it anymore and then you break down and channel those piled up emotions through rage, tears, and helplessness which can drag anyone around you into it. Then it finally breaks into your room of ignorance to find you snuggle in the corner while asking you the penultimate question,

“I am here. Why are you ignoring me?”
There is an intriguing article by James L. McGaugh on Consolidating Memories. He said that our own experiences suggest that emotionally arousing experiences can create lasting memories. The findings suggested the possibility that endogenous systems activated by arousal might influence neural processes underlying memory consolidation. And adrenal stress hormones activated by learning experiences enhance memory consolidation. This emotional arousal activated neuro-biological system seems to play an important adaptive role in insuring that the strength of our memories will reflect their emotional significance. Overall the findings provide an understanding of why the strength of our memories depends on their emotional significance.

In short the more adrenaline we secrete, the more precise our memory will be. When something terrifying happens we will retain an intense and largely acute memory of the event for a long time. Maybe that is why I personally love horror and thriller movies as it is more vivid to recall than the romantic or comedy ones. However when the horror of an event is just too much, our system will be in a great shock and become overwhelmed that leads to a break down. When witnessing an accident and the death that of a beloved person, our body may prevent from taking too much burden by shutting it down and voila, we collapse.

According to the research, when we try to block a painful memory, it is like keeping a time-bomb. We subconsciously avoid anything that relates to the event. When it is traumatizing, we neglect all the things pertaining to the event to avoid the risk of remembering again. And the painful memory is still there knocking the door. Memory of course is not solely used to reflect on the past. It also determines how we behave in the future which is quite essential for our survival. It helps us avoid the danger and prioritize things in life. Therefore accepting all memories, bad and good, will help us function and continue living a more meaningful life. 

However, it's so ironic that the thing we try hard to forget often comes back knocking harder at us. Life has a ruthless sense of humor and it is unpredictably sardonic most of the time, isn't it?

I personally have the tendency to alarm myself when a certain time perceived in the past is virtually reoccurring. It’s almost like remembering birthday, except without blowing candles as a sign of joy and hope. It's more like my body and mind join forces to resurrect a feeling so poignant and bitter. This month for instance has encapsulated a memory of three years ago when I was busy settling in a foreign city to start my career-break. November is a remembrance that I was trying to adjust my focus on my life goal. Instead, I got my focus hijacked on something else. Practically I was continuously looking for jobs to feed my mouth while being mentally eroded. I was questioning and doubting myself. My whole body and brain seemed for once has coalesced to develop a complete resentment towards that moment that happened in November. They still take this feeling as fresh from the oven; meanwhile it  had happened three years ago. 


Noticing the feeling, I tried to take control and refused to participate in such coalition. I spoke faintly, almost defensively,

“Hold on. Even when it seems that bad, it has happened in the past. Now when I reassess it, I don’t think it’s that bad. We succeed in surviving, don’t we?”

So I brought all other happy memories that also happened in November. I resurrected a memory of two years ago when I first learned to dive and received my diving license. Or this month a year ago when I was ecstatically happy for my first trail run with my supportive running club and just completed hiking Rinjani. I also almost forgot that in November six years ago I got a chance to visit the city I wanted to see since forever. They are not supposed to be forgotten and gone. They are undeniably happiest moments that ever happened to me. I'm just letting my body and mind acknowledge that one emotionally-exhausting memory doesn't equal one scabbed sheep that is enough to spoil the flock. 

So what about this month? What can I rewrite for November this year?

Frankly this question is easy to answer with a simple sentence:

I survived this November too.

I started to perceive that to just survive on daily basis and celebrate a little personal achievement is definitely acceptable by my standard. This feeling is brought up to the surface of my consciousness just recently and I’m starting familiarizing myself with it. Nevertheless, I am still having a stance on an interminable-transition whether believing time heals or time does not. Somehow I believe time asserts us to heal our wounds as well as nature, good books, unconditional friendship, and kindness does. It only made sense for me because the moment has passed and I squeezed the lessons out of it.

So here I am learning to accept it and embrace it as part of myself: a hundred of failures, loss of significant ones, and another adversity in life. And I will cherish whatever may come in the future: the good and the bad. I feel weirdly safe and secure by slowly embracing my own flaws and misfortunes. Of course there was the time I ignored it. And at the time I ignored it, it seemed I tried to completely block it like stalling the water from flowing with a weak wood log which could potentially burst into massive flood as time goes by. By noticing this, I am trying shifting my mind and building a filter, instead of a wood log, to create an imaginary strainer to let things come through and stay outside. Sometimes I let what lies outside to come in to simply remind me of what I have faced in the past. Through carving self-awareness I found out that ignorance is corrosive to some degree. It corrodes self-commitment and determination that have been nurtured by time through changes and challenges. 

In the tradition of celebrating crucial moments that have passed and to relinquish my own ignorance little by little, my mind occasionally conducts a temporary take-over and let himself have fun in the reticent farming of the remnant feeling that may still linger. It’s like I am vomiting my thoughts, taking the filter out, and cleaning it up.

It’s gross but hopefully it’s healthy as I'm picking this up as my self-reminder.

The Vomit 

My box of memories was trying to evoke me with a memory of this month three years ago. I started to struggle and found my way to learn so many things about people around me, nature, the meaning of family, friendship, love, and my self-existence. Through lessons I had never asked, I kept being fed on to be resilient. After I completed my first year lesson, I had never felt content being alone and really liked my sweet melancholy side.

I got a chance to spend so much time in the nature and traveled by myself in order to know myself better. I decided to take a break from my career-break (funny how I said it) and went home to spend more time with family and friends. And even when earlier this year I went back to try again, I held no expectation. It didn’t take me a full year to realize that I have had enough. After few months floating in uncertainty, I went back home again. I kept telling myself that this is my sound decision that I need. I need this, not anyone else. Conclusively though taking career break wasn’t my personal fave moment, I had no regrets doing it. I learned lot of things. Even if everything didn’t go well as I planned, there was always a silver lining behind the gloomy clouds. Of anything that happened that makes me feel strong, I hope it is my faith that keeps growing stronger. 

Oh geez, I didn’t realize there’s a tiny portion of optimism inside me.

Aside of it I also have been thinking whether my everyday memory will be incessantly compared to the betterment. I ponder betterment is inherently enveloped in the now which purports what brings us to present time is actually a better time. Sometimes our judgment of what we think better for us is clouded by our carnal desire. Well, I don’t have a sufficient tool of thinking to assess whether today is always better than yesterday, or vice versa. The variables and indicators that relate to each of us greatly vary. But if today I’m still alive, wouldn’t it much better than tomorrow which has been a proven falsification of things that never happened? I mean, I’m still here heaving finely, looking at the sun kisses my frail face or letting the rain seep into my ugly pore gently. I couldn’t ask for more for today.

To picture this in a simple way, let’s say I had two apples yesterday, and today I have lost one which left me with another one, would I perceive today is better or worse than yesterday?

To think of it everyone might have different answers because the question simply needs a constructed perspective. For an instance for someone who doesn’t like apples, having less means better. But for someone who appreciates quantity over quality, having less could mean a nightmare. Let’s take another example on how an optimist will answer this. They probably would think that having one or two doesn’t constitute a state of betterment, but having does. What about a fatalist? Well, they might enjoy the last apple they have as they believe that lost and found is an inseparable gift wrapped by destiny. What about someone feeling nothing whether they have one or two apples? The feeling that days are made of constant times of passing through no matter how many apples they have or what apples actually are? The emptiness that is somehow equivalent to mindfulness. Just letting it gag open without trying to patch it, or even to fill it. Apples don’t amplify or shrink their life. While an existentialist would probably throw away the apple to get rid of the over thinking problem of the nature of ourselves. We are not defined by our nature in pondering the essence of ourselves, let alone (a certain number of apples). Our existence precedes our essence.

On a solipsistic view one’s life can’t be equally compared to another one’s. This could only mean that people have different perspectives on seeing things in their life. Therefore we couldn’t simply look on someone’s life through our eyes to get a full understanding. I haven’t met somebody who is that bland that constitutes one full perspective, but instead a complex mixture of many. That’s how our idiosyncrasy is built layered by layered from our experiences and sometimes it fortifies itself as a very strong coping mechanism. I can go on asking lots of people to adhere my answers but it wouldn’t defy the fact that some lessons are tailored-made to each person’s fitting. We can learn how people deal with their life conundrums but in the end we learn mostly from ourselves. It’s like the first time we learned to walk and speak. I almost didn’t remember how I first learned to walk, but I still remember how to walk.

Then another question popped up. Does betterment in life lead to more happiness? If we seek betterment, what would be the limit to consider enough betterment?

I personally think that happiness has been romanticized through many things where possession and companionship is the mere savior of lonely souls. Well, happiness differs from pleasure. I sometimes get pleasure in buying things and feel good having a good companionship. This idea is generated and nurtured by a notion that the more things we have in life, the better, thus the happier we become. It’s true that transferring some of joy and happiness to stuff and even people is inevitably humane. The thing is that when we transfer it more than we should have, we would eventually feel devastated when we don’t get it back. I learned that reflecting ourselves isn’t only inward-looking through a mirror, but also through stuff we have and people we connect with. And I had to admit that these previous years I leaned my happiness greatly on things and people. Hopefully now I am learning.

A memory, stuff, people, we are looking for a place where we belong. It has something to do with our roots. I once said to a friend that every person is a dandelion seed which flies away from their homeland to finally find their new home. Some might grow and nurture themselves on a totally different land and later reclaim it their home, some might come back to where they feel belong. The actual home where we feel at ease.

Looking a place where we belong sometimes need to be paid with extra energy and time to keep examining our feeling when is the time we actually feel at home. It sometimes slips away or exhausts  us through our mundane activities. We feel withered and decide to settle down to call any place we could find a home. I occasionally overlook the fact that home I needed is home that is built within myself. Then I have been trying to pick it up with deliberate slowness and hone myself to be more conscious with my personal solitude to exactly define what my home actually is. For these past three years I have been learning to listen more to my conscience, intuition, and people around me and to understand my nearest surrounding, their feelings and thoughts. By feeling connected to myself and my surrounding, I feel like I can be more appreciating little things mostly forgotten.

For instance reconnecting with old friends is one thing I have mended for the last two years. I was never good at making friends. I once thought to never expect people to understand me, and in return I would never expect myself to understand them. My thought was like, "If life was a series of poignant hellos and goodbyes, would it be less painful to meet less people in our life?" But then again, I was mistaken. Just now I found out how selfish I am.

Now I realized that people crossing each other’s path to walk together and to finally drift apart is only natural. As we together walk on our different journey, we’re still threading our memories; happy and sad ones. In the end our body will rot and even memories fade.

As long as I still function, I am excited to learn to accept the inevitable, including bypassing more memories that go through within me like a river flowing with deep subtlety, and also rage without mercy; like the Earth that molds her surrounding through shifting weathers and seasons, or rough waves of ocean that sweep sand beaches: I enjoy being here. And I sincerely hope so do you. 

P.S. I know this writing is all over the place. But I gave you a heads-up that this writing is a vomit which must be all over the place. Peace!