Updated: May 13, 2020
Monday 4th May, 2020
I've just come to the end of another heartwarming book by Meik Wiking, ‘The Art of Making Memories’. I had that sad feeling I used to get as a child when I finished the last page of a great story. I'd felt the companionship of the characters and I'd had something to do. Now what?
But this time it was an Audible 'read.' With all this extra time in the house (more, even than usual) audio books have become something of a lifeline. I listened to Wiking's other book, 'The Little Book of Hygge' and I knew I wanted to listen to more. If only for his comforting voice!
Anyway, I thought I'd write about what I learned and reflect a little on the memories in my own life - what stands out and why. After all, there's a lot of time for reflection right now, no?
So the book opens by looking at the kind of memories we tend to remember. These include 'firsts' of any kind, things we were frightened to do and painful memories. No wonder most people remember the birth of their child! If anything can incorporate all three, it is that.
It got me thinking about the importance of 'firsts'. If these stand out more than other memories, and we want a wealth of memories to look back on, then how do we achieve this? Without leading a life of non-stop adventure, travel and spending, I'm not quite sure. But it's certainly true what he says. Someone once told me that you can never experience the way you feel when you walk into the Vatican for the first time, for a second time. I tested his theory. It was true. While the church was still awe-inspiring the second-time around, I just couldn't get that feeling I'd had when I looked up at the ceiling for the first time.
Likewise with my son, who was born two years after my daughter, and has drawn the short straw in the memory department. I still remember some of his 'firsts', like the walking and the first word. Or do I? As I type this, I realise that I don't, really. I can tell you when it was and how old he was, roughly. But I could tell you exactly Grace's first steps. By the pool in Galicia, where my Dad lives, and my sister Faye, helping her to take her first long series of them. It has a vividness that poor Isaac's first walking does not. We just cannot feel the same intensity with 'seconds', it seems.
So I suppose we achieve 'firsts' with things like new hobbies, new purchases (?), new places, new foods, new music... In our younger days we sometimes do it in a more exciting or reckless way. As our daily commitments deepen, sadly, we have to find less thrilling ways of doing it. Maybe that's why so many experience a mid-life crisis and buy an Audi.
Anyway, the next part of the book explores how we create meaningful memories in small ways, the multi-sensory aspect of memories, how to curate them and the benefit of nostaliga. I got thinking about the second bit.
I think it's fairly common knowledge now that smell is a strong trigger for memories. One lady, according to the book, wore a special perfume for her wedding day, which she’d never worn before, so her special day was forever contained in a bottle. Hope her marriage was a happy one ! And Andy Warhol even dedicated an entire museum of scents from sections of his life, which people can go and smell.
I can remember the first time I experienced the power of a smell. I was about 5 years old and I opened a small trinket. I was transoported back to Indonesia, where I'd spent the first two years of life, but I had no visuals to go with it. It just took me right back. I asked Dad and he said it was the smell of moth balls. Hmm. And I also remember the way it felt to get to the villa we used to stay at in Spain, every few years, and stand in the garden, smelling the jasmine. That smell brought excitement and past holidays straight to my nose.
There are some smells that, even if I experience them in different places, will always be the first time I did. Box Hedge will always be where my Auntie lived in Lourdes. Jasmine will always be that villa. Piz Buin will always be summers in Galicia. A grape-scented gel pen will always be me revising for my A-Levels, an age ago, feeling miserable and waiting for revision to be over. I even applied sun tan lotion at the time, to get the feeling of holidays on the horizon - and phoned my friend Hannah Booth to tell her to do the same. She admitted she’d thought it was ridiculous, but did it anyway - and found it worked.
So if you’re feeling blue - especially at this time - maybe dig out some suntan lotion and see where it takes you...