The Persistence of Memory

An essay I wrote for another blog on the eve of our full time cruising.

We are decluttering our house. Or rather, we are removing the meaningless and disrupting the meaningful. We’ve lived here nearly twelve years. My wife remembers it all, or so it seems. I remember my kidney stone attack on move-in day. Other memories of our tenure here require her to help me excavate. Gradually, my own memory will pull free from the accumulated detritus of my former, rat-racing life. That’s if she’s had the patience to wait for my emotional archeology.

If she asks me who was handling the foredeck for the Cerripedia Cup 35 years ago, I’ll say “Kent” with little hesitation. If she asks me on what tack we finished a particular double-handed, gale-whacked race in 1979, “Starboard with an overide on the genoa primary” leaps forth. Where we ran aground in June ’80: New Smyrna… Why do these answers pop from a mental toaster, when other more recent, and perhaps more significant memories don’t?

I Logged them. Yes, with a capital “L.”

First printed, then cursive, annotated with three and five color sketches in the margins, water stained, rippled in a place or two, fourteen pounds of Logbooks rest on the top shelf of my nearest bookcase. I rarely look in them. They aren’t there for reference. They served their principal purpose when I wrote them. Writing them in black and blue and umber engraved the memories on my mind.

No, they are not all engraved to equal depth, some are realistic, some impressionistic, and there is more than one Blue Period as land-life degraded our water-life somehow. There is one period I Logged nothing, zip, nada. Something whispered, even then, however significant the sailing might have been, I didn’t want to have broader memories of the time.

The racing Logs started out looking like my lab diaries or my pilot logs. Factual, terse, data-centric, they recorded: been there, done that, tore my t-shirt. And then the tactical coup, the strategic deception, the rainbow, the dolphins started to creep in. Because I knew I would write about these things, I became actively engaged in remembering. Logged data morphed into the declarative; the declarative into stream of consciousness. Now the fraternal twins, exposition and essay, rule the most recent Logs.

Because cruising expanded our navigational boundaries and afforded us generous time to absorb our surroundings, the Logs became more nautical and natural. They became close, sometimes spray-splashed, companions, and I added colors to my pencil palette to sketch Anhinga, and Angus and Gator… My handwriting improved. What I was writing had merit to me; it deserved to be treated meritoriously. I bought better pens than those offered by Monsieur Marcel.

To keep the Logs dry, I bought a hand recorder – a mistake. My observations became a stew of lazy- laconic-lurid. My comments came across as verbal graffiti when I wanted a study, a sketch, I could develop into something memorable. I over-corrected and began to sound like a pilot again. I left the recorder on a marina picnic table with a “Free to a Good Home” sign.

And Weblogs arrived.

Cursive demands a thoughtful rhythm, a pause to consider, a desire not to blot out the hasty. Keyboards make no such demands. A different (higher?) part of my brain is involved when I Log with pen and ink into a book made of tree.

The region that kicks in when I blog with keystrokes stored in something mineral leaves scratches not engravings. Do I blog from a digital platform, of course I do and enjoyably, too. For sharing information and ideas, it’s excellent. But after attempts to blog a Log, I realized, for memory’s sake, I might as well have been using a white board and a dry-erase marker.

I Log with cursive ink on paper; I still sketch. For persistence of memory, I find it unsurpassed. Is there overlap with blogging? Indeed. But, I Log first because I would most regret having failed to do that. Blogging is usually, intentionally and appropriately, derivative (or not the stuff of memories at all).

After four decades of Logging thusly, I am convinced of three things. Knowing one will be keeping a Log forces one to be attentive and observant. Knowing one will be using pen and ink and bound paper forces one to be thoughtful and deliberate. Knowing others will read of themselves offers one the opportunity to be generous and kind.

Attentive and observant, thoughtful and deliberate, generous and kind memories of a water-life well spent — not bad for something that started as a way to record how fast a chip of wood dragged a knotted line off a reel.

© C. Alex Waln, 2011

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