Category Archives: memory

Putting Together

“You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn’t matter. The world has been changed nonetheless.”

– Julian Barnes

Things, not unlike people, affect each other and their surroundings, often unintentionally, but with a lasting effect. Things interact, merge, react, depart along trajectories. It’s like accidentally waking up in Paris. The confusion is a mixture of everything – terrifying and wonderful. As you stumble around an unfamiliar city, barely able to decipher the pewter structure for the Eiffel Tower in the distance, grasping for any indication of how you got there, but unwilling to leave, the confusion mingles with exuberance. The feeling surging through you is the result of two, maybe more, things put together and there is a good chance you were one of those things, reacting to contact.

You only understand after the fact. Interaction is a process that is rarely noticed while in progress; the process is just another phase to be taken for granted in the moment. Your hands brush away interaction in the hopes that there is something more, unwilling to understand that that moment is it. What if you could go back to those precious moments and relive them, appreciating them for what they were? I wonder this all the time. But that, just like stopping time, is altogether impossible. And as Barnes further says, “this is like asking for the best of both worlds – though since you just endured the worst of a single world, you might feel yourself entitled to it. But entitlement – the belief in some cosmic (or even animal) reward system – is another delusion, another vanity.” Which is why that feeling, simultaneous confusion and awe, often mixed into joy, can only be lived in the ephemeral moment before it is snatched away, and while it may change the world, it is only your world that matters. Like a scarf with the perfect gloves, or hat. It is the perfect combination, but only to you. Two things brought together like on the cover of Vogue magazine. Others can try to create it, but you are the only one who can pull it off. Because when anyone else dons your scarf, it is like a magenta river running down their neck, unnatural. That scarf was made for your neck. Besides, a scarf is just a thing that feels good, and that particular one brings you ecstasy. Warm, comfortable, familiar thing. It doesn’t matter how you wear it – tied, knotted, wrapped, loosened – it fits into the folds of your throat, collar bone, and shoulders, accustomed to your curves. Except you have worn it so many times, it begins to feel as though your body is adapting to it as well, changing the architecture of your bones to accommodate the fabric. It is not until you accidentally leave it behind that you notice the cold where the material interacted with skin. “And the world is changed.”Not the world at large, but again, yours, where the chills become frequent; it is cold outside and your scarf was better than all the others.

But we were talking about waking up in Paris, which is not like waking up without a scarf, but rather waking, or awaking, to a world where waking is cognizance to everything all at once. And you are confused. This isn’t where you are supposed to be, but does it matter? And among your things you find a scarf that isn’t like the one you had, but still the same one, with a slightly different texture. Almost as if it were a sibling to the scarf you had, but not. It functions the same way, except you can’t feel it (in the way a scarf should be felt on skin), yet it keeps you warm with its presence, always there, hovering, just out of reach. A senseless scarf? Strong enough to keep out the wind, but if you touch it, the interaction of your finger on its delicate fibers, will destroy what is left. As long as you don’t acknowledge its existence, it stays.

So you live in your memories, traipsing through an unfamiliar city, excited and dazed, and always trying to remember, all the while purposefully ignoring your scarf. How you got there – even if still a valid question – no longer matters, and you realize that this moment may be all that you have. As you stare off into the distance at the Eiffel Tower, small and statue like, you take it in, this time knowing you may never see it again. And you stop at the coffee shop for pressed coffee of which you will only find cheap replicas at home. You read every billboard aloud – last chance to practice your French. And you allow your fingers to sink into the soft yarn of your scarf, as it disintegrates in your hands, hungrily grabbing at it, letting your fingers memorize its texture for the last time. You inhale its scent as it turns into nothing. And in that moment of contact the world changed, your world and the scarf’s world (whatever that may be) changed, but unlike last time, this time you knew. Tomorrow you won’t have to rely on hindsight. And today, only today, as you wake up in Paris puzzled, you can just stop in the middle of the Champs Elysees, and enjoy your scarf before it fades away.


Frisson cannot be properly translated. A translated version becomes bulky, rather unwieldy, and absolutely not the same thing. A version of the word is not the word itself, and although the meaning remains for the most part intact, it does not convey the same message.

I think my first adult encounter with frisson was in Zurich. By “adult” I am referring to my level of cognizance – not just of my surroundings – but the precise adjective applicable to the event as a whole. Of all places to experience frisson (especially for the first time), pale white Kloten would never occur to anyone. Aside from being unbelievably boring, the uneventfulness of the place appears almost sadistic on their part, as if the entire town conspired against all tourists, taking bets on when one will scrape their eyes out with a rusty nail. Nothingness, however, can be magical.

The sudden rush of frisson is precisely most acute when unexpected: would it have even been identifiable had I been searching for it? ¬†I felt it in my cheeks. If frisson was a thing I could hold in my hand, it would have seared my palm. But as it creeped into me, I recognized it for what it was. I can’t say it was beautiful, not because it wasn’t, but frisson cannot take on such simple description.

Frisson” is “frisson,” and nothing else. While that was the first time I experienced it that I can remember, and I am sure I would have remembered, it was not an isolated incident, in that it has come to me several more times since. Once it made its appearance, it kept coming back, and I began collecting bits of it like I would articles of clothing – a chemise from one occasion, a pashmina scarf from another event, a pencil skirt from I can’t remember when, etc. Yet despite series of incidents to build an entire armoire, each piece held a different and special value, independent of the others, but all parts of frisson. Precisely why you cannot try to translate it.

Kloten in winter is vanilla, and not simply because of its general ennuyeux (the very antithesis of frisson!), but in the most literal sense, its slight valleys and lakes are covered in snow and ice, reminiscent of a winter wonderland, except, no, not really. And I think that that is exactly what produced the sensation of frisson within me. To shiver is the tremble, but to do so as an effect of something. It was indeed cold outside, but the trembling induced by frisson would rival the effects of temperatures in Antarctica. It wasn’t a trembling, or a shivering, but rather a tremor deep inside, indicated by nothing more than my flushed cheeks.

What I was about to do was probably in and of itself cause for frisson, but the feeling came from an absolute immersion of sensations, inexplicable, sublime, primarily concentrated on the visual Рa tormented image of nature, unadulterated beauty. The activity combined with my sensory surroundings produced a quality of frisson unforgettable, and impossibly unmistakable for anything other than what it was. Frisson cannot be properly translated.

I wandered around, almost aimlessly, and settled for a small coffee shop that was nearly deserted where I had several cappuccinos and probably smoked just as many cigarettes; at that time indoor smoking was fine, especially in just about every part of Europe. This coffee shop had no windows, and I was beginning to think I was more than likely at a bar that just happened to serve coffee this time of day, and I remember feeling disappointed that I could not sip my warm coffee while staring out at the angry weather. You might be inclined to view my desire for tortured skies on par with my reasoning for going to the beach predominantly in the winter on the grayest days. Have you ever tried it?

I remember sitting in the coffee shop (bar?) for what seemed like all day, but was probably more like an hour, looking around, staring into nothingness, wishing I had brought a book. I thought about what my mother would say. Actually, I thought about what she wouldn’t say (her non verbal communication was always the strongest). I could already discern her disapproval oddly mixed in with delight. Almost as if she knew what would happen before I did – an imagined anticipation – of which I was not yet aware.

As it unfolded I made decisions with almost haphazard ambition. I didn’t want to be derailed for multiple reasons, all more or less concerned with losing momentum, or perhaps courage, or maybe simply afraid of a moment’s reprieve where I could reflect on what was happening and attempt to insert reason into an otherwise irrational endeavor. The early stages were too chaotic for frisson – a concept that requires a certain amount of introspection which was here altogether lacking – and if there was a predominant sentiment, it was recklessness.

My gaze moved between the table, the wall, and my nails in an almost circular motion, occasionally interjected with other adjacent objects. In between endless fidgeting I took swallows of coffee, each sip getting a little cooler until the cup emptied and I would order another. An unidentifiable song was playing in the background, nearly drowned out by the coffee grinder that sounded like it was in need of a break.

I remember remembering my grandfather giving me coffee beans to play with while he ground the rest up into what looked like dark brown confectioner’s sugar. The scents inside the coffee shop were identical to ones from my childhood memory.

Maybe I shouldn’t.

It wouldn’t be until I left the coffee shop, much later, that cognizance would take place, and the ensuing frisson.

I recall the rest of the day, and maybe that is what Edith Piaf meant when she sang “non, je ne regrette rien.”


Time can become meaningless once you realize that while it moves forward your life moves in a circle, always repeating events, but never fully recapturing what once was. What is now is always a simulacrum of the past. Even your memories will reflect this when you realize you can’t quite remember – not exactly, and not enough to distinguish between the past and present.

Your memories changes with time. You are always remembering the same event, but as time shifts so does the memory. How is that possible? How can an event, which has happened already, change? It doesn’t, but it does. The event, the physical manifestation of what occurred is fixed. Your memory however, dependent upon your interpretation of the event, changes. At different points in time the significance of an isolated moment, a memory, shifts, and that is what you remember. It is your interpretation of that moment that gives it meaning, and as your perspective changes, the moment becomes redefined.

What happens when multiple people remember the same event? Even when they agree on the actions that occurred, they will still see it differently. They each viewed it from a different angle. Does this mean that each perspective becomes a different fragment of the same event, or that the event itself becomes replicated to accommodate multiple facets?

And what happens when a memory belongs to only one person, and they can no longer remember? As they completely forget, if no one else witnessed or knew about the event, does that somehow void the action from the universe? This is kind of a different take on the “if a tree falls but no one hears it” question, except I am not questioning whether the tree made a noise when it fell. I want to know if the tree fell at all.

A lady in her kitchen moves a kettle from the counter onto a shelf, an event so un-noteworthy (like so many others) that she never tells anyone of it (why would she?). One day she dies, thus the memory absolutely no longer exists, with her, or anyone else. Did the kettle ever move?

You get older, but that doesn’t mean time travels in only one direction; as the days pass you find it is Monday again, December again, and always again. It all is as it once was, except slightly off. And all of the memories you accumulate play in a loop on repeat serving as the soundtrack while you mime out your life, striking a different pose each time the same song comes on as if you have never heard it before because each time it sounds so different you cannot recognize it. Years have passed, and you have come full circle, ready for another round.